Structured Decision Making for Management of Warm-Water Habitat of Manatees

Science Center Objects

Manatees are tropical to subtropical in distribution and, with few exceptions, Florida is the northern limit of their natural winter range.  The availability of warm-water habitat during winter is critical for the future persistence of the population in Florida.

PROJECT COMPLETED

Florida manatee population uses warm-water discharges from power plants during winter
Florida manatees use warm-water discharges from power plants during winter

The Science Issue and Relevance: Manatees are tropical to subtropical in distribution and, with few exceptions, Florida is the northern limit of their natural winter range. The availability of warm-water habitat during winter is critical for the future persistence of the population in Florida. Currently, over half of the Florida manatee population uses warm-water discharges from power plants during winter; these plants can go off-line temporarily or permanently, resulting in potentially catastrophic levels of mortality due to the cold. Large aggregations of manatees may also be vulnerable to disease, red tide, or human-caused catastrophes. A key goal of state and federal management plans is to assure the long-term persistence of a reliable network of suitable warm-water habitat for all four subpopulations (or management units) in order to maintain a viable manatee population into the future.

Methodology for Addressing the Issue: The goal of our project is to apply structured decision making (SDM) to help managers make better management decisions related to the management of warm water habitats for Florida manatees. SDM is a formal method for analyzing a decision by breaking it into components. This approach helps to identify the impediments to a decision, and to focus effort on the appropriate component(s). The goal is then to identify the optimal decision in terms of the specified objectives. SDM is rooted in decision theory, which provides a powerful framework for making decisions about the management of complex systems. A Bayesian Belief Network (BBN) was developed for analyzing management decisions related to management of warm water Florida manatee habitats. BBNs are graphical models that represent the states of the world as a series of nodes linked by causal dependencies among them. These linkages are represented by probabilities which can be based on empirical data, and/or expert judgments. One major benefit of BBNs is that they are well suited to account for limited information and uncertainty in ecological processes. The next step will be to elicit a comprehensive list of management objectives and priorities from key stakeholders like the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Future Steps: Project has been completed. No further research is scheduled although the methodology used in the project is applicable elsewhere.

Related Products:

Kosempa, M., J. Martin, F. Johnson, R. Mezich, B. Stith, C. Deutsch, M. Masi, and H. Edwards. 2014. Structured decision making for management of warm-water habitat for manatees. Final report to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. FWC/FWRI file F2852-10-14-F. 25 pp. plus appendices.