RADical Responses to Ecological Change in a Transforming World


Responding to Ecosystem Transformation: Resist, Accept, or Direct?
Laura Thompson, Erik Beever, Bob Newman, Jennifer Wilkening, Robert Magill, John Morton

Many ecosystems are undergoing drastic transformations because of climate change and other human-driven factors. Thus, a static view of ecosystem processes may no longer be sufficient for managing wildlife and their habitats. We present three strategies that can be utilized by wildlife managers dealing with ecosystems susceptible to transformation.  Specifically, managers can resist change to maintain existing ecosystem processes, accept transformation when it is not feasible to resist change or when changes are deemed socially acceptable, or direct change to a future ecosystem configuration that would create desirable outcomes. While the choice to resist is a traditional management strategy (e.g., minimize population losses, restore degraded habitats), accepting or, especially, directing ecosystem change are less commonly considered approaches.  Resisting change, however, may become less feasible as the intensity of ecosystem drivers increases.  We provide examples of resist, accept, and direct strategies that are relevant for wildlife management.  Additionally, we provide context on when choosing a particular option may be appropriate, addressing issues related to scale and feasibility that can factor into choice among management strategies for ecosystem transformation. 

Resist, Accept, or Direct (RAD) in Wildlife Management: A Matter of Scale
Robert Magill, Laura Thompson, Bob Newman, Jennifer Wilkening, Erik Beever

Wildlife populations around the globe are subjected to a wide range of environmental disturbances related to climate change. Climate driven changes are occurring at unprecedented scales, in both a temporal and spatial context. These climatic changes occur at multiple scales ranging from daily to multi-annual and from local to continental, respectively. For wildlife managers to positively address these influences, a revised approach to problem solving is necessary. The multi-scale nature of climate change alterations to wildlife management requires addressing management issues at similar scales. By using the Resist-Accept-Direct formula, managers increase their available tools, simply by looking at different strategies for different scales. We aim to demonstrate how the R-A-D framework can help address wildlife management challenges at multiple scales and how different scales can influence which aspect of R-A-D is most applicable considering management goals. We also aim to demonstrate how wildlife management can be served by implementing a R-A-D set of solutions. The Resist approach may be most appropriate for wildlife managers when addressing population related concerns at a local scale over short time frames, whereas the Direct approach may be best used at regional scales over several years, and the Accept approach may provide the best option at larger, continental scales over longer periods of time. Likewise, the RAD framework can be applied in more than one form R-A-D concurrently whether spatially or temporally. A management solution that begins under the Direct approach may at the same time have a Resist or Accept component to maximize efficiency, effectiveness, and applicability to management goals or the feasibility of implementation.

Navigating the Transition – the RAD Framework for Ecosystem Management in a Non-Stationary World
Bob Newman, Laura Thompson, Erik Beever, Jennifer Wilkening, Robert Magill, John Morton

There is growing certainty that we live in a highly dynamic and changing world with considerable uncertainty about future conditions.  However, modern wildlife management emerged in the 20th century as ecological science and theory developed under a paradigm of nature that assumed quasi-stationarity, or relatively limited change.  Management objectives based on human values might change as human values changed or when improved understanding of population and ecosystem states and processes required updating of objectives.  However, we have always assumed that objectives were attainable based on observed historical system states (aka “the baseline”).

We now understand that ecosystem transformation is increasingly expected and already occurring in some places because of climate change.  The emerging framework for wildlife management acknowledges system non-stationarity, considerable uncertainty, and the inevitability of change.  Navigating ecosystem transformation will require a wider range of possible objectives for managers, ranging from continued attempts to prevent or slow change (R=Resist), allowing change to occur, perhaps because it is unavoidable (A=Accept), or attempting to guide change in preferred or more desirable directions (D=Direct).  The RAD framework we and others propose is intended to expand our possibilities and reduce untenable efforts to maintain the status quo.  In this presentation we seek to provide guidance on decision-making; when would one choice or a particular combination of choices be selected?  We further seek to clarify the relationship between decision-making under the RAD framework and the familiar approach of Adaptive Management (AM).  We suggest that AM can accommodate RAD decision-making by incorporating additional logic in the adaptive management cycle.

Resist, Accept, or Direct (RAD) Ecological Change? a Wildlife Manager’s Dilemma
Jennifer Wilkening, Scott Covington, Kurt Johnson, Dawn Magness, Anita Harrington, Jason Goldberg, Michael Hudson, Jeff Burgett, Mark Porath, Jean Brennan

Wildlife managers throughout North America are increasingly faced with novel challenges associated with climate change, invasive species, recreational and urban development, and other anthropogenic activities. Many regions are experiencing unprecedented climate conditions,  shifts in species distribution and habitats, and high turnover in species composition resulting in various levels of ecological transformation. While natural resource managers have tools to assist with managing for change (e.g., Climate-Smart, Structured Decision Making), they lack tools for identifying and selecting management strategies that address ecological transformation. A recently proposed decision support approach provides a way for managers to resist, accept or direct (RAD) the trajectory of change. Utilizing the RAD framework allows wildlife managers to better allocate scarce resources resulting in more effective conservation action or sustainable restoration. However, it may also present unique conservation or management challenges for practitioners in federal agencies such as the US Fish and Wildlife Service, where decision making is often underpinned by legislative directives (e.g., Endangered Species Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act).  Here we summarize ongoing efforts to initiate RAD actions on National Wildlife Refuges and discuss issues associated with applying the framework to species Federally listed as threatened or endangered. We also identify barriers and opportunities related to successful landscape scale implementation, such as lack of concordance among collaborators or the differing missions of federal natural resource management agencies (e.g., multi-use versus conservation mission.) Finally, we describe how the RAD framework integrates with current and potentially future wildlife law and policy. This decision support framework provides options for complicated management decisions that address continued ecological transformation across wildlife habitats in North America.

Multi-Scale Changes in Montane Habitats of the Great Basin
Erik Beever, Jennifer Wilkening

Ecosystem transformations, biome shifts, and no-analog communities are occurring with increasing frequency. Using 27 years of contemporary data, paired with historic records dating back to 1898, we show results hinting at dynamics occurring in remote portions of the hydrographic Great Basin in both biotic and abiotic components. In this system, climatic controls are outpacing the importance of biogeographic vicariance and proximate anthropogenic influences. We report on elevational shifts, existence of dynamics through time related to vegetation and aspects of climate, existence of microrefugia, patterns in occupancy and abundance, and the effects of drought. We discuss relevance and Resist, Accept, and Direct options for such systems that are remote, often under federal jurisdiction, and sometimes in wilderness areas.

Location: Virtual Date: November 4, 2021 Time: 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm