Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Where’s the Evidence for Adaptive Management?

By Martin Westgate

Everyone talks about how important adaptive management is but few are actually doing it.

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Adaptive management is everywhere. Google it and you’ll get more than five million hits, while academic search engines can return more than 20,000 articles. These articles discuss a huge range of topics – from ecology and conservation biology through to epidemiology, medicine and even construction. And more are being written all the time.

Adaptive management receives so much attention because it is intuitive, broadly applicable and conceptually appealing. Its basic premise is that as management proceeds, information is collected that improves knowledge of the system being managed. This knowledge is then used to improve future management practice in an iterative process sometimes described as “learning by doing”. Consequently, adaptive management should be a good way to manage systems that are poorly understood.

Unfortunately, this simple overview masks a large amount of controversy in the academic literature. For example, some proponents have advocated that adaptive management be applied to nearly all environmental problems. Conversely, detractors have argued that adaptive management is merely a corporate buzzword that is sometimes used to justify the continuation of flawed policies. Despite this diversity of opinion, quantitative evidence describing the pros and cons of adaptive management is difficult to find.

Working with David Lindenmayer and Gene...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.