Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Thinking of cool networks - check out this map of science built using data on "clickstreams" - which links do people click on in what sequence as they search publishers websites and web portals such as ISI web of science. Pretty cool stuff - at least it looks cool. Nice to see that ecology fits in between social sciences and biology.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
"The term "transformative research" is being used to describe a range of endeavors which promise extraordinary outcomes, such as: revolutionizing entire disciplines; creating entirely new fields; or disrupting accepted theories and perspectives — in other words, those endeavors which have the potential to change the way we address challenges in science, engineering, and innovation. Supporting more transformative research is of critical importance in the fast-paced, science and technology-intensive world of the 21st Century. "
but ... that begs the question - how do you go about revolutionizing an entire discipline? Disrupt an accepted theory, OK, I can see how to propose that - attacking foundational assumptions. Create a new field? seems a tall order for one 3 year grant.
Monday, April 27, 2009
For a long time - since I started writing grants to fund myself as a PhD student and later as a postdoc - I've believed that the primary reason Universities push graduate education so hard is economic. Graduate students are cheap, highly motivated labor, both for teaching and research. Mark Taylor wrote a nice Op-Ed piece in the New York Times last week where he made exactly that point - from the perspective of a professor of religious studies. He also made some pretty radical suggestions for how to reform the University system. Now I don't necessarily agree with every point he made there, but the one about graduate training emphasizing "cloning" is highly relevant. One of the big struggles facing the implementation of AM is a lack of people that have the right kind of background. Training as a research ecologist does not prepare you to help managers do Adaptive Management. Training as a wildlife biologist does not prepare you to use AM in making decisions - in fact, we avoid teaching ecologists about decision making altogether. We (the denizens of the 4th floor of Hardin Hall) have put together a graduate specialization in AM, but this only solves half the problem.
The other half of the problem - well, maybe the other 90% of the problem - is that graduate education for wildlife biologists in North America is largely funded by RESEARCH grants. So - how do you write a grant to fund someone who is going to learn how to do AM? Sure, they can work on a project to develop an AM plan, but it is going to take alot longer to develop than say, counting birds on a bunch of conservation easements before and after woody veg removal. The latter is relatively easy for a state agency to fund ("relatively" is an important word here!), whereas the AM plan is much harder, because it looks expensive and there is a long lag time before a student can start to really get the work done. And where's the research component? If you want to do research on developing the tools of AM - quantitative methods, stakeholder interactions, etc - great, but then you really have alot of learning to do before you can be effective. Who pays for you to develop the skills needed to even begin doing that research?
Sorry, no answers on that front. I'm open to suggestions for how to pay for graduate education that is relevant to professionals in the field.
My colleague and collaborator Jim Peterson describes the fundamental intellectual debate about AM as falling into two schools of thought: the North American and Australian Schools. The "North American school" developed directly from Buzz Holling's work, and evolved into it's current form through its application primarly to the Florida Everglades - Resilience Alliance is one great source of information on this perspective and the many places it has been deployed. The Collaborative Adaptive Management network is another.
The "Australian School" developed in parallel, inspired by the ideas of Buzz Holling and collaborators, but with a much greater emphasis on using quantative tools from Decision Theory. This approach is currently the focus of vigourous development by Prof. Hugh Possingham and the research facility for Applied Environmental Decision Analysis as well as many scientists at the USGS. The USGS folks have also one of the best examples of an "Australian School" AM in the North American Waterfowl Harvest Management plan.
So - what, if anything, is the difference between the two schools of thought? I believe that the differences are rather small, but those small differences may have significant consequences. First, the North American school requires (insists? believes?) that Adaptive Management uses management actions as experiments, and that building resilience is the goal. This is certainly Holling's intent in his original writing, and thus these two components of experimentation and resilience echo strongly in projects like the Florida Everglades and Glen Canyon. The Platte River Recovery Implementation Project is also focused on experimentation and resilience building. To put one's finger right on the difference - the Australian school does not require these two things, although they are certainly allowed. Otherwise I think they're pretty much the same.
I plan to write a bunch more about these differences and their consequences, but I wanted to get my views up now for a variety of reasons.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Monday, April 20, 2009
Sunday, April 19, 2009
The only thing I was a bit disappointed by was the way Bakker and Doak skirt past the issue of tradeoffs - although they mention that cost-viability tradeoffs occur, in their example they have chosen not to evaluate them. Any actions that exceed the current available budget are not evaluated. In that sense, the tradeoff IS made, and at a rather extreme level. I agree with their assertion that conducting a full analysis of the ecological risks makes the economic assessment more meaningful - and thus all the more surprising that such ecological assessments are not conducted more often.
They conclude with a reference that I'll have to pursue - about how iterative cycles of explanation and improvement ultimately led to uptake of the recommendations of the model by managers - what they call the "handshake approach".
Bakker, Victoria J. and Daniel F. Doak. 2009. Population viability management: ecological standards to guide adaptive management for rare species. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 7:158-165. doi:10.1890/070220
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Maybe there's another way. What if agencies simply gave all scientists (and I include social scientists here) some baseline funding? Sounds expensive, but think of how much effort it costs society to review all those grants. Check out this review of several relevant articles and discussion at the link, it's thought provoking.
One of the conclusions of that article is that decreasing diversity decreases ecosystem function. I came across another article on the diversity-function debate in last week's Nature. The authors set up > 1000 microbial communities, each with the same suite of 18 taxa of denitrifying bacteria. The key was that the communities varied in "evenness" - the extent to which the community is dominated by one or a few species. They then challenged each micro-community with a dose of nitrite, and then measured how much of the nitrite was removed 20 hours later. Communities with greater evenness performed better - and more importantly, maintained that improved performance to a greater extent when the microcosm was simulataneously challenged with increased salinity.
So, is this resilience sensu Holling and Gunderson? I think not, for a couple of reasons. First, although the functional rate decreases with decreasing evenness, all the microcosms still function to some extent; there is no "flip" to an alternative non-functioning state. The appearance of a non-linear threshold would be the ultimate cool result, but they found only smooth changes. Second, they did not examine the structure of the microbial community AFTER the perturbation. Resilience posits that resilient systems will maintain their structure during and after a perturbation - structure in this case would refer to the relative abundance of the 18 microbial taxa. It is possible that even the control communities that were not challenged would have shifted in relative abundance just because of normal competition between the microbes.
Regardless, it is a really cool experiment!
Douglas A. Landis, Mary M. Gardiner, Wopke van der Werf and Scott M. Swinton. 2008. Increasing corn for biofuel production reduces biocontrol services in agricultural landscapes. PNAS 105(51) 20552-20557 doi: 10.1073/pnas.0804951106
Lieven Wittebolle, Massimo Marzorati, Lieven Clement, Annalisa Balloi, Daniele Daffonchio, Kim Heylen, Paul De Vos, Willy Verstraete & Nico Boon. 2009. Initial community evenness favours functionality under selective stress. Nature 458:623-627. doi:10.1038/nature07840
Sunday, April 12, 2009
One neat intro is a series of webcasts put together by trainers at the Bureau of Land Managment. There are 3 seperate 2 hour webcasts, which have a presentation and panel format. They were originally webcast live, so the expert panel also fields questions from viewers. I particularly found the segment on the legal implications of Adaptive Management very interesting - and a little frightening!
Saturday, April 11, 2009
The centerpiece, AM-wise, was the Missouri River Natural Resources Conference in Billings, Montana. My colleague Sarah Michaels, from UNL's Political Science department, was one of the Plenary speakers, and gave us (scientists & engineers, that is) a real prodding to wake up and recognize our differences so we can get on with the business of saving the planet. Or at least the Missouri River, in the first instance! The other plenary speakers were on fire too - Jim Martin, formerly from Oregon's state agency and now director of conservation at Berkley Conservation Institute gave a great presentation pointing out how we (scientists primarily) need to look up now and then - and in particular think about how increasing demand for water will affect conservation efforts. The rest of the conference was in the usual vein - plenty of presentations about how fish species A is growing in life stage B in habitat C, or Bird X is or is not eating Y. So much knowledge, in so many people, and so hard to track how its all relevant. Independently I've run into alot of stuff about Knowledge Management which suddenly seemed horribly relevant (pun intended) - more on that in a future blog post, although I've touched on it before.
So, many apologies for the long lag in thinking, but I've been much too busy DOING it to think about it! Not what I signed up for when I set out to become an academic ...