Thursday, September 10, 2009

Adaptation science needs adaptive management

Climate change is real, its coming and we won't stop it, so we need to do some science to adapt our current natural resource management practices to it. Meinke et al (2009) lay out a framework for doing that in an article in a new journal "Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability". What I find interesting is that their framework teeters on the brink of describing adaptive management, but never quite gets there. The notion is that once we evaluate an adaptation option, and call it good, it will be implemented. No uncertainty. No need to iterate. I think this arises from the agricultural science background of the paper, where replicated experiments are the rule, and uncertainty comes from variation in the external environment, rather than the dynamics of the system itself. Not true for ecological systems, I fear!

Holger Meinke, S Mark Howden, Paul C Struik, Rohan Nelson, Daniel Rodriguez,
Scott C Chapman, Adaptation science for agriculture and natural resource management
-- urgency and theoretical basis, Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability,
Volume 1, Issue 1, October 2009, Pages 69-76,
ISSN 1877-3435, DOI: 10.1016/j.cosust.2009.07.007.


  1. Thanks for the publicity, Drew :).

    I agree with you, there is a need to iterate and re-evaluate, continuously in fact. This is why we say in the paper: … this cycle of understanding and implementation is perpetual ….
    Further, the ability to deal with (intrinsic) uncertainty is also fundamental. Your criticism about not dealing with uncertainty really hurts, given that I spent most of my career trying to communicate how to manage with intrinsic systems’ uncertainty (in my case: uncertainty arising from the climate system). Writing this paper was an exercise in humility: no matter how hard I try, I never seem to be able to get the full message across. I’ll keep trying….
    BTW: check out the little movie about the paper that should be on the COSUST website by early Dec 09 - you feature ....

  2. Hey Holger you're welcome!

    My apologies for missing the statement about iteration and uncertainty in the article. I was a bit terse in my post - I really did like the article! What I think is challenging about Climate Adaptation is that the scales are so large compared to what I deal with in ecology.

    I can appreciate the difficulty of communicating uncertainty, believe me!

  3. No apology needed, Drew. I really appreciate sincere feedback and will pay more attention to these issues next time around (… and of course missing a few others in the process).

    Yes, scales are the big challenge for adaptation actions – temporal as well as spatial. The principles are probably valid regardless of scale; effectively and logically meshing actions across these scales is the difficulty, I think.

    BTW: I do like the concept of ‘adaptive management’, but I found the tag a bit narrow for what we wanted to describe here, particularly because I think that most of our bottle necks are institutional and attitudinal. ‘Adaptation Science’ is much more than management. Management is, of course, important, but far more important is (at least for me) the way we do science; how we prioritise our research portfolios. I see an urgent need moving towards an outcome / solution orientation in research that disregards disciplinary lines. Ideally this is something that should reconcile the engineering / applied science approach and the ‘pure’ sciences, the irrational knowledge accumulation that most universities still promote. This requires different attitudes, including a different approach to science management. It is time that we as scientists AND our institutions start thinking about new ‘social contracts’. It all of that I’d like getting across with the notion of ‘adaptation science’. No hope, I guess 