Resilience Thinking and Structured Decision Making in Social-Ecological Systems

The natural resource management paradigm has been shifting from traditional command-and-control to a focus on complex social-ecological systems and explicit recognition of uncertainty. Implementation of the new paradigm requires methods for making wise, defensible decisions in the face of the challenges and risks presented by managing natural resources in complex social-ecological systems. This research project presents an approach to natural resource management planning in complex social-ecological systems that combines the benefits of structured decision making (including adaptive management) and resilience thinking. Oak forest conservation in southeastern Nebraska is used as a case study throughout.

Structured decision making is a process for developing management plans that are built upon a thorough understanding of the problem, values, options, and potential consequences. Adaptive management is a form of structured decision making in which uncertainty is reduced through designed monitoring and review. Resilience thinking offers ways of conceptualizing complex systems, acknowledging the presence of multiple stable states in nature and considering the extent to which a given system can absorb perturbation before shifting into a different organization of functions and processes.

Research conducted as part of this project involved:

  • Linking recommendations for resilience thinking and structured decision making;
  • Investigating how optimization can be used to address resilience objectives;
  • Exploring the potential for adaptive management under State Wildlife Grants, focusing on the Nebraska Natural Legacy; and
  • Reducing uncertainty about the environmental and management drivers of oak seedling abundance at Indian Cave State Park.

Full results can be found in Noelle Hart's dissertation.

Principal Investigator(s)
-Craig R. Allen NE CFWRU
- Melinda Harm Benson (Universtiy of New Mexico)

Graduate Student(s)
-Noelle Hart, Ph.D. (2015)

Project Duration
August 2011 - August 2015

-National Science Foundation IGERT Program
-Nebraska Natural Legacy Project

Project Location
Statewide Nebraska