About the Science and Decisions Center

Science Center Objects

Today's natural resource managers must make effective decisions with broad–scale societal impacts. 

Image of a healthy river and terrestrial ecosystem inteface.

A healthy river is the lifeblood of a
verdant terrestrial ecosystem.
Credit: Steve Hillebrand, USFWS.

In many cases, the decisions affect natural processes occurring across the landscape, have complex interactions, numerous competing stakeholder demands, and highly uncertain outcomes. The USGS is uniquely positioned to address complex issues with expertise in science areas that span energy, minerals, environmental health, ecosystem change, land use, climate change, hydrology, and natural hazards. The Center provides a cross–cutting framework to link the USGS mission areas to natural resource decision making. It also works with partner agencies to incorporate USGS science into their management of natural resources, and to prioritize USGS science on the basis of their resource management needs.

The USGS Science and Decisions Center (SDC) is an interdisciplinary organization advancing the use of science in natural resource decision making. The Center focuses on research and applications in five science areas:

  1. ecosystem services;
  2. decision science (adaptive management and structured decision making);
  3. resilience;
  4. participatory science and innovation; and
  5. natural resource economics.

The Center works with partners in DOI and other government agencies, universities, and nongovernmental organizations to develop methods, capacity, and institutional structures to integrate science more effectively with resource management. SDC and its partners examine resource management issues in a context that links physical, biological, and socioeconomic systems, and accounts for uncertainty in system behaviors and the effects of management.

The Science and Decisions Center includes capacity, infrastructure, and mechanisms to integrate science and decision making for the DOI agencies and other partners. It functions as a central node for networking and collaborating with existing expertise within the USGS as well as the broader conservation community, including other federal agencies, universities, nongovernmental organizations, and the international community. Center staff — leaders in its five focus areas — build operational linkages among the elements of the Center's science portfolio.

Ecosystem Services

Ecosystem services are derived from processes and functions that define unique ecosystems. These "outputs" of nature provide innumerable benefits to humans. The Science and Decisions Center is actively engaged in research projects to identify, measure and value the bio–physical, economic and social benefits of ecosystem services across various landscapes.

Decision Science

SDC develops, promotes, and supports the use of decision science approaches to significant multi—and inter–disciplinary natural resource management issues within the Department of the Interior and elsewhere. Through the use of decision science tools SDC helps to identify and structure stakeholder values and stakeholder relevant science, to bring together scientifically sound information from a wide range of sources and disciplines into an integrated assessment of natural resource and natural hazard management questions.


Resilience is the ability of a system or a community to absorb shocks and still retain the same basic structure, processes, and functions. Several variants of the resilience concept are relevant to management of natural resources.

Participatory Science and Innovation

Participatory science and innovation are participatory techniques, like crowdsourcing, citizen science, and civic hacking, that engages volunteers, stakeholders, and the general public in scientific activities to enhance science and address real–world problems through open innovation solutions from a broader community.

Natural Resource Economics

Natural resource economics draws from multiple disciplines to evaluate the interdependencies between human welfare and natural ecosystems. As a specialty within the field of economics, the focus is the constraints and tradeoffs found at the interplay between earth’s natural resources and traditional economic development. Considerations include valuing environmental amenities, integrating the costs of externalities, evaluating the benefits of environmental information, and investigating incentives and markets.