Demonstrating the Applicability of a Robust Decision Making (RDM) to Conservation Decision-Making Under Uncertain Future Climate

Pilot Study Using the Northern Pygmy Salamander (Desmognathus Organi)

Published in: Journal of Conservation Planning, Volume 13 (2017), pages 11-24

by Abbie Tingstad, Robert J. Lempert, Matthew Moskwik, Dan L. Warren, Camille Parmesan, Linda O. Mearns, Seth McGinnis, Youngbok Ryu

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Climate change challenges conservation planners in making decisions about habitat site selection and augmentation. This pilot study explores the use of Robust Decision Making (RDM), a decision analytic approach employed in water and coastal management, for conservation decision-making. It employs the RDM approach to design a theoretical decision experiment that compares the differences in performance between stylized static and adaptive land purchase strategies that notionally aim to protect additional habitat for Desmognathus organi, a salamander in the south central Appalachians, under uncertain future climate conditions. The static strategy purchases a specific parcel of land in the present, whereas the adaptive strategy leases two parcels in the present and purchases the most suitable later. Purchase decisions are based on projected future habitat suitability for D. organi, estimated using species response models trained with an ensemble of climate model projections. Using RDM methods that emphasize scenario-based analysis and statistical discovery of factors that favor one decision versus another in different futures, we find that the adaptive strategy tends to perform slightly better than the static strategy in terms of selecting highly suitable habitat over a wide range of futures. RDM shows promise as an approach to support conservation decision-making. Additional methodological development is needed to apply it to real-world conservation problems.

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