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Ecological Research and (and Research into) Environmental Management

Underwood, A. J.
Ecological applications 1995 v.5 no.1 pp. 232-247
attitudes and opinions, decision making, ecologists, ecology, environmental degradation, environmental management, issues and policy, managers, models, prediction, research management, research programs, researchers, scientists, uncertainty
The interactions between ecological research and management decisions about environmental problems are complex. This paper attempts to analyze the different types of research related to environmental decision‐making so that their relationships and purposes can become clearer. There are four major types of research, which interact with one another and with management to influence the outcome of decision‐making. Category 1 is the available pool of research, the material presented to or used by management agencies when they have defined a problem and need data to use in reaching decisions about what to do to solve it. Ecologists are excessively reactive and responsive to the uses of this research rather than initiating or being proactive in the use of their findings. As a result, managers have always defined the problems and set the agendas for their solution. This causes requests from the research community for information that is chosen by managers. Our responses are therefore often confused and uncertain. Research is not properly used because researchers are not setting the agendas. Many perceived managerial problems could be reframed by better ecological input and a concomitant reduction in the uncertainty associated with inappropriate uses of ecological research. Category 2 is applied and environmental research aimed at specific tests of the results of the decisions made by managers by treating these decisions as testable hypotheses. This is rarely done. It should be a major contribution of ecology to environmental matters. Category 3 is new, basic, and strategic research to develop new theories and understanding when former managerial decisions fail (as revealed by Category 2). Ecologists have not been successful in ensuring that such programs are actively pursued as the mainstay of our ability to provide better research in the future, which will then form the available pool of understanding (as in Category 1) when called on by managerial agencies. We tend to do such research in isolation from the needs of environmental management. We are often compelled into making predictions about ecological processes and outcomes that we do not understand. We need a better understanding by managers about the sorts of research we must do to allow proper predictions. Until then, there must be much more ecological research into the outcomes of managerial decisions, as tests of the predictions and hypotheses made in the formation of the managerial policies. We need novel research programs that arise out of the failures of previous attempts to manage, control, or prevent environmental degradation or to enhance restoration. Category 4 is managerial research designed to investigate the processes of management and the procedures by which decisions are reached using the information provided under Category 1. This is normally not a scientific study and is rarely done in conjunction with ecologists. Yet ecologists should be the people best trained to analyze the procedures used in public management of environmental issues where these relate to decisions based on ecological data. Ecologists should evaluate much more extensively the validity or generality of ecological research in Category 1 for a particular defined problem of environmental management. Otherwise, inappropriate findings, models, and/or opinions become incorporated into a complex mechanism for making decisions. How the results of ecological research are used in decision‐making is a crucial area of study that must be investigated by ecologists. This paper attempts to make the strengths and purposes of the research and its limitations more obvious to research scientists, environmental managers, and the public. The ways in which ecologists deal with the management of environmental problems may thereby become increasingly effective.