Adaptive Management

adaptive management cycle illustration

Adaptive Management Cycle, adapted from CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research

Coral reef managers must make decisions in the absence of perfect knowledge; reefs are highly complex and dynamic systems and future conditions are largely unpredictable. As a result, managers are rarely certain about the precise effects of management decisions. While this can sometimes lead to reluctance to take action, in effect not taking action is also a ‘decision’ – albeit a passive one – that in itself can have important and unpredictable consequences. The challenge of decision-making with incomplete knowledge has given rise to the concept of adaptive management, which includes monitoring as a central component.

Adaptive management recognizes that management actions create opportunities to learn and improve. The adaptive management cycle is a structured, continual process that provides a basis for robust decision-making in the face of uncertainty through the use of monitoring and learning feedbacks. Adaptive management provides a method for:

  • Making more informed decisions about what actions are the best for a conservation project
  • Measuring and testing the effectiveness of strategies used
  • Learning and adapting to improve strategies

Adaptive management improves long-term management outcomes, but it is important for managers dealing with urgent problems to find the correct balance between gaining knowledge to improve management in the future and achieving the best short-term outcome based on current knowledge.

Managers interested in adopting a structured adaptive management approach will find a number of excellent references, including guides specific for practitioners. ref For an online training program that provides a step-by-step process for doing adaptive management go to Conservation Training.


Adaptive Management: A Tool for Conservation Practitioners (pdf, 1.8M)

Video presentations on adaptive management by USGS

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Last updated August 25, 2015

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