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Using value of information to prioritize research needs for migratory bird management under climate change: A case study using federal land acquisition in the United States

April 17, 2020

In response to global habitat loss, many governmental and non‐governmental organizations have implemented land acquisition programs to protect critical habitats permanently for priority species. The ability of these protected areas to meet future management objectives may be compromised if the effects of climate change are not considered in acquisition decisions. Unfortunately, the effects of climate change on ecological systems are complex and plagued by uncertainty, making it difficult for organizations to prioritize research needs to improve decision‐making. Herein, we demonstrate the use of qualitative value of information analysis to identify and prioritize which sources of uncertainty should be reduced to improve land acquisition decisions to protect migratory birds in the face of climate change. The qualitative value of information analysis process involves four steps: (i ) articulating alternative hypotheses; (ii ) determining the magnitude of uncertainty regarding each hypothesis; (iii ) evaluating the relevance of each hypothesis to acquisition decision‐making; and (iv ) assessing the feasibility of reducing the uncertainty surrounding each hypothesis through research and monitoring. We demonstrate this approach using the objectives of 3 U.S. federal land acquisition programs that focus on migratory bird management. We used a comprehensive literature review, expert elicitation, and professional judgement to evaluate 11 hypotheses about the effect of climate change on migratory birds. Based on our results, we provide a list of priorities for future research and monitoring to reduce uncertainty and improve land acquisition decisions for the programs considered in our case study. Reducing uncertainty about how climate change will influence the spatial distribution of priority species and biotic homogenization were identified as the highest priorities for future research due to both the value of this information for improving land acquisition decisions and the feasibility of reducing uncertainty through research and monitoring. Research on how changes in precipitation patterns and winter severity will influence migratory bird abundance is also expected to benefit land acquisition decisions. By contrast, hypotheses about phenology and migration distance were identified as low priorities for research. By providing a rigorous and transparent approach to prioritizing research, we demonstrate that qualitative value of information is a valuable tool for prioritizing research and improving management decisions in other complex, high‐uncertainty cases where traditional quantitative value of information analysis is not possible. Given the inherent complexity of ecological systems under climate change, and the difficulty of identifying management‐relevant research priorities, we expect this approach to have wide applications within the field of natural resource management.