Adaptive Management

Science Center Objects

Adaptive management (AM) combines management and monitoring, with the aim of updating knowledge and improving decision-making over time. We provide a guide for managers who may realize the potential of AM, but are unsure where to start. The urgent need for iterative management decisions, the existence of uncertainty, and the opportunity for learning offered by often highly-controlled captive environments create favorable conditions for AM.

Camera Trap photo of a Tiger

Camera Trap photo of a Tiger (Public domain.)

Development of Methods Associated with Animal Population Dynamics

Conservation and management of natural animal populations requires knowledge of their dynamics and associated environmental and management influences. Specifically, informed management requires periodic estimates of system state (e.g., population size) and models for projecting consequences of management actions for subsequent state dynamics. However, it is very difficult to draw strong inferences about system state and dynamics for natural animal populations and communities. The primary challenges are: (1) the tendency of animal densities to vary substantially over space and (2) the likelihood that any method of sampling animals (capture, direct observation, etc.) will produce counts that represent some unknown fraction of the true number of animals in the sampled locations.



Scrub Jay

Patch Occupancy Models a conservation applications that can focus on endangered species management for the conservation of Florida scrub jays. (Public domain.)



Development of Patch Occupancy Models for Assessing the Spatial Distribution of Organisms

A variety of important questions about the conservation and management of natural resources requires information about the spatial distribution of organisms. For species of conservation concern, the size of a species’ range is a criterion used to assign species status as threatened or endangered. For invasive species and disease organisms, the dynamics of the species range expansion are relevant to efforts to both control invasions and to protect vulnerable species. In this period of rapid global change, it will be important to be able to understand and predict dynamics of species ranges as habitats change in suitability.



Polar Bear, Ursus maritimus

(Public domain.)



Adaptive Management for Threatened and Endangered Species

The Challenge: Threatened and endangered species have to be managed in the face of uncertainty, but traditionally, there has been reluctance to think about adaptive management of listed species. Management agencies with responsibility for threatened and endangered species need tools to help manage in the face of uncertainty, with the hope of reducing that uncertainty.






American woodcock, Scolopax minor

(Public domain.)

Adaptive Management of American Woodcock in the Atlantic Northern Forest Bird Conservation Region

Research goals of this project seek to take an adaptive approch to habitat management for American woodcock. Under this process a mix of early successional forest habitat will be created following the allowable guidelines of state forest management, National Wildlife Refuge management plans, and commercial timber management plans; management actions will consist of various treatments at different scales(e.g., clear cutting, strip cutting, overstory removal) on commercially marketable timber, and treatments of non-commercial timber (alder, scrub/shrub habitats) such as cutting with heavy equipment and brush saws; Competing hypotheses include: H1: Even age forest management will provide the highest quality early successional habitat. H2: Overstory removal provides high quality habitat. We will utilize the woodcock Singing Ground Surveys technique to monitor responses and to compare the result of a chosen management action with the predictions under each hypothesis.


Northern Pintail, Anas acuta

Northern Pintail, Anas acuta (Public domain.)


Integrating Habitat and Harvest Management for Northern Pintails

Several blue-ribbon panels have challenged the waterfowl management world to recognize the linkages between the two primary management frameworks: harvest management under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and habitat management under the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. Because these two frameworks seek to manage the same populations, there needs to be better coordination, in planning, in modeling, in monitoring, and in decision-making.






West Indian manatees, Trichechus manatus

(Public domain.)


Modeling, Estimation, and Adaptive Management of Florida Manatees

Florida manatees are threatened by watercraft-related mortality, the potential loss of warmwater habitat, red tide events, and other anthropogenic factors. The USFWS and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have regulatory authorities under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), and state statutes to recover manatees. To support management decision-making, these agencies need quantitative assessments of population status.



Little Brown Bat with white-nose syndrome

Little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) with white-nose syndrome (Credit: Alan Hicks, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Public domain.)






Structured Decision Making: Methods, Applications, and Capacity-Building

The field of decision analysis is a rich and mature discipline that provides robust methods for helping decision makers understand the nature of their decisions, involve stakeholders and scientists in appropriate steps of the process, and develop transparent records for the public. The use of these structured approaches is emerging in natural resource management, and there is strong demand in our partner agencies for support for their application.