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Integrating research tools to support the management of social-ecological systems under climate change

Brian W. Miller, Department of the Interior North Central Climate Science Center, Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State University
Jeffrey T. Morisette, Department of the Interior North Central Climate Science Center, Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State University; U.S. Geological Survey


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Developing resource management strategies in the face of climate change is complicated by the considerable uncertainty associated with projections of climate and its impacts and by the complex interactions between social and ecological variables. The broad, interconnected nature of this challenge has resulted in calls for analytical frameworks that integrate research tools and can support natural resource management decision making in the face of uncertainty and complex interactions. We respond to this call by first reviewing three methods that have proven useful for climate change research, but whose application and development have been largely isolated: species distribution modeling, scenario planning, and simulation modeling. Species distribution models provide data-driven estimates of the future distributions of species of interest, but they face several limitations and their output alone is not sufficient to guide complex decisions for how best to manage resources given social and economic considerations along with dynamic and uncertain future conditions. Researchers and managers are increasingly exploring potential futures of social-ecological systems through scenario planning, but this process often lacks quantitative response modeling and validation procedures. Simulation models are well placed to provide added rigor to scenario planning because of their ability to reproduce complex system dynamics, but the scenarios and management options explored in simulations are often not developed by stakeholders, and there is not a clear consensus on how to include climate model outputs. We see these strengths and weaknesses as complementarities and offer an analytical framework for integrating these three tools. We then describe the ways in which this framework can help shift climate change research from useful to usable.

Key words

agent-based modeling; complex-adaptive systems; natural resource management; scenario planning; simulations; species distribution modeling; state-and-transition modeling

Copyright © 2014 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087