Responding to Ecosystem Transformations: Resist, Accept, or Direct?

ROOM: Atlantis, Grand Ballroom 4
Ecosystem transformation is the emergence of a self-organizing and self-sustaining biotic system that deviates significantly from prior scientific or cultural baselines of ecosystem structure and function. These transformations are occurring ubiquitously and, therefore, a static view of ecosystem structure and function may be no longer sufficient for managing fish and wildlife. We present a framework that encompasses multiple options for fish and wildlife managers dealing with changes to ecosystems. Specifically, managers can resist change to maintain existing ecosystem processes, accept change when it is not possible to manage ecosystems or when outcomes may be socially acceptable, or direct change to a future baseline that would create desirable outcomes even though different from the past. The purpose of this symposium is to present this framework in greater detail and provide guidance on when to apply the three management options through an adaptive management lens. Finally, we will illustrate the use of this framework through a series of case studies.

8:00AM Responding to Ecosystem Transformation: Resist, Accept, or Direct?
  Laura M. Thompson, Abigail Lynch, Erik Beever, Augustin C. Engman, Stephen T. Jackson, Trevor J. Krabbenhoft, David J. Lawrence, Douglas Limpinsel, Robert T. Magill, Tracy Melvin, John Morton, Robert Newman, Mark Porath, Frank Rahel, Suresh A. Sethi, Jenn
Ecosystem transformation is the emergence of a self-organizing, self-sustaining, ecological or social-ecological system that deviates from prior ecosystem structure and function. These transformations are occurring across the globe and, therefore, a static view of ecosystem processes may no longer be sufficient for managing fish, wildlife, and other species. We present a framework that encompasses three high-level strategies for fish and wildlife managers dealing with ecosystems susceptible to transformation. Specifically, managers can resist change to maintain existing ecosystem processes, accept transformation when it is not feasible to resist change or when changes are deemed socially acceptable, or direct change to a future ecosystem configuration that would create desirable outcomes. We provide context on when choosing a particular option may be appropriate, addressing issues related to scales of time, space, and magnitude that factor into choice among management strategies for ecosystem transformation. Finally, we suggest how this trichotomy of management strategies can be naturally incorporated into an adaptive-management framework, providing a structured approach to managing in the face of the high uncertainty.
8:20AM Guiding Principles for Managing Ecosystem Transformation
  Abigail Lynch, Laura M. Thompson, Erik Beever, Augustin C. Engman, Stephen T. Jackson, Trevor J. Krabbenhoft, David J. Lawrence, Doug Limpinsel, Tracy Melvin, John Morton, Robert Newman, Jay Peterson, Mark T. Porath, Frank Rahel, Suresh Sethi, Jennifer Wi
Ecosystem transformation is emergence of a self-organizing, self-sustaining, ecological or social-ecological system that deviates from prior ecosystem structure and function. Managing ecosystem transformation toward states with novel composition, function, and dynamics is an inherently unpredictable and difficult task. Management strategies developed under the assumption of relatively stationary system dynamics typically fail to accommodate dual social and ecological processes governing ecosystems because they do not often consider externalities. Such approaches may be ineffective when faced with current and expected rates of ecosystem transformation. Conventional implementation of adaptive management has the potential for thoughtfully addressing ecosystem transformation, but requires broader perspectives to address challenges and uncertainties of newly emerging ecosystem states. We examine how to apply adaptive management in the context of ongoing and anticipated ecosystem transformation. We review examples where the adaptive management framework was modified to address ecosystem transformation, and summarize guiding principles for managing ecosystem transformation.
8:40AM Resisting, Accepting or Directing Change: A New Way to Think about Climate Adaptation
  John Morton
The Resist-Accept-Direct Decision Framework is a new way to think about climate adaptation. It squarely assigns adaptation to directional and transformational change to a managerial decision. In response to the same directional driver (sea-level rise) on the East Coast, three National Wildlife Refuges (Blackwater, Chafee, Chincoteague) have chosen solutions from three different decision bins, highlighting the context-dependent nature of adaptation. In response to ecological transformation on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, where the rate of climate warming is 2-3 times that of the Lower 48, the framework helps promote out-of-the box adaptation thinking: facilitating colonization of a novel grassland ecosystem with nonnative species, recharging of drying peatlands, and geoengineering to slow glacial melt. The RAD framework is panoptic in its scope while offering mutually-exclusive decision bins. As such, it tends to create new decision space, encourage bet-hedging among competing strategies (bins), and promote consideration of experimental studies to test ecological trajectories and pilot studies to demonstrate the feasibility of novel adaptation approaches.
9:00AM The Anthropocene, 6th Extinction, and Managing with a Lens Towards Global Biodiversity: A Case Study for Stewarding Ecological Transformation on the Kenai Peninsula
  Tracy Melvin, John Morton, Gary Roloff
Traditional wildlife management addresses change and uncertainty using adaptive management frameworks, the core of which tend to answer “what”, “where”, and “when”. To maintain relevancy in the 21st century, conservation practitioners must accommodate the velocity, scale, and uncertainty associated with the Anthropocene and climate-induced directional change. Resultant ecological transformation can be stewarded using traditional wildlife and ecosystem management techniques, however, it beseeches a spectrum of thoughtful discussion that answers the “why” and “how”. The Resist, Accept, Direct (RAD) framework allows for the necessary conceptual space, addressing the “why” and “how”, before making a decision point that leads into the adaptive management process. We demonstrate the RAD framework incorporated into the Anthropocene, continental conservation, and the 6th extinction to address ecological transformation on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, where the rate of climate warming is 2-3 times that of the Lower 48. We discuss the results a series of filters that guide decision making, and the results of pilot projects specifically designed for addressing the uncertainty associated with ecological transformation. These results specifically address stewarding ecological transformation on the basis of ecosystem function, niche diversification, species richness and evenness, climate replacement species, foundational species, and climate refugia concepts.
9:20AM RAD-Ical Approaches for Managing Fish Populations in a Changing Climate.
  Frank Rahel
Approaches for managing aquatic ecosystems in the face of climate change can be considered in terms of a RAD framework (Resist, Accept, or Direct change). Resist involves undertaking actions designed to forestall changes, accept refers to adapting to changes as best one can, and direct refers to undertaking interventions that will guide changes along pathways deemed most desirable by society. Options available to manage freshwater fish populations can be grouped into four categories: stocking, regulations, habitat alteration, and community (food web) manipulations. I will discuss how these four management actions fit into a RAD framework and provide examples of how they could be used to resist, accept or direct changes in fish assemblages associated with climate change. Of particular interest is how application of a RAD framework might differ when managing sport fish versus nongame fish or native versus nonnative species.
09:40AM Break
1:10PM Panel Discussion
2:10PM Conservation When the Train Has Already Left the Station: Ecology of Amphibians in Changing and Changed Ecosystems
  Robert Newman
Well before the current, rapid environmental alteration resulting from climate change, ecosystems have been increasingly undergoing human-caused transformation. In some regions, such as the North American plains, little remains of formerly vast natural systems and the wildlife habitats they provided, because of conversion to agriculture. Impacts on natural resources and wildlife populations are further exacerbated by climate change, engineered hydrologic alterations, and continued expansion of invasive species and infectious diseases. How do we manage sustainably for wildlife and ecosystem services in such a dramatically altered world, especially in places where most land is privately owned and in agricultural production? Various federal, state, and private NGO programs have been created to incentivize land owners to protect ecosystem health on their lands, including federal Farm Bill conservation programs, state habitat projects and NGO programs such as Ducks Unlimited’s conservation programs. Using amphibians as a model system, because of their dependency on both terrestrial and aquatic habitat, sensitivity to the environment, and relative inability to avoid unfavorable conditions, I review the key elements that are critical to maintain populations, the evidence that existing conservation programs create conditions for success, and how the management actions involved align with the Resist, Accept, or Direct framework.
2:30PM Multi-Scale Changes in Montane Areas of the Great Basin
  Erik Beever, Jennifer Wilkening
Ecosystem transformations, biome shifts, and no-analog communities are occurring with increasing frequency. Using 25 years of contemporary data, paired with historic records dating back to 1898, we show results hinting at dynamics occurring in remote portions of the hydrographic Great Basin in both biotic and abiotic components. In this system, climatic controls are outpacing the importance of biogeographic vicariance and proximate anthropogenic influences. We report on elevational shifts, existence of dynamics through time related to vegetation and aspects of climate, existence of microrefugia, patterns in occupancy and abundance, and the effects of drought.
2:50PM Refreshment Break
3:20PM Flow Regime Influences the Trajectory of Ecosystem Transformation in Tropical Island Urban Streams
  Augustin C. Engman, Bonnie J.E. Myers, Alonso Ramírez, Thomas J. Kwak
Urbanization, human water use, species introductions, and climate change (e.g., increased frequency and intensity of droughts and tropical storms) are driving tropical island stream ecosystem transformation. Tropical island streams are characterized by the predominance of native amphidromous fauna (i.e., shrimps, fishes, and snails), which are also crucial to ecosystem functioning, and provide valuable ecosystem services. The urban stream syndrome (USS), a comprehensive conceptual model of urbanization-driven ecosystem transformation, predicts shifts from diverse, native-dominated fish assemblages to depauperate assemblages dominated by introduced and tolerant species. In most instances, the changes predicted by the USS are accepted by managers of tropical island streams. However, a long-term study in a Puerto Rico stream revealed inherent resistance to fish assemblage shifts through urbanization and exotic species introductions. Invasion resistance was lost under extreme drought conditions but a return to baseline flood frequency and two hurricanes were linked to assemblage resilience. These results and multiple life-history studies of native amphidromous fishes suggest that flow regime functions as an environmental filter that dictates the composition of novel tropical island stream fish assemblages. As such, instream flow management is a crucial part of the process of resisting, accepting, or directing ecosystem transformation in urbanizing tropical island streams.
3:40PM Managing for Socio-Ecological Change in the Mojave Desert
  Jennifer Wilkening, Lara Kobelt, James Hurja, Matthew Petrie, Nicole Hupp, Florence Deffner, Kerry Holcomb, Peter Sanzenbacher
The driest desert in North America is the Mojave, which occurs across parts of Nevada, California, Utah and Arizona. The region is ecologically and topographically diverse, with elevations ranging from to -85 to 3,633 meters, and consequently hosts a large number of threatened, endangered, and endemic species. The sunny climate and proximity to national parks and other public lands continues to attract people, and urban development and recreational activities are increasing throughout the Mojave. Additionally, hotter and drier conditions are projected for much of the region under future climatic regimes. Plants and animals are shifting their distribution or becoming locally extirpated, but responding to ongoing change remains challenging for natural resource managers faced with high levels of uncertainty. Here we present a broad overview of ecosystem transformation in the Mojave desert. We identify the main drivers behind socio-ecological change (e.g., solar energy projects, changing fire regimes, invasive species) and the most vulnerable ecosystems (e.g., aquatic areas, desert scrub, high elevation forests). Utilizing a framework that incorporates resisting, accepting or directing change, we offer examples of managing for current and future ecosystem transformation in the Mojave desert. Information presented here highlights potential solutions for dealing with continued change in desert ecosystems.
4:00PM Restoring Carter Lake, Overcoming Political Paralysis
  Mark T. Porath
Urbanization gravely impacted Carter Lake. Changes throughout the watershed had accelerated nutrient and polluted run-off, which accumulated for years and caused frequent harmful algal blooms and fish kills, severely reducing the use and value of this popular metropolitan lake. Conflicts between user groups prevented collaboration for decades until a community-based planning process brought together all twenty- two entities with legal authority at Carter Lake, incorporating all viewpoints into a 6 M dollar project to implement watershed-wide best management practices and restore the health of the lake. A review of the practices and planning process is coupled to demonstrate how paralysis was avoided by applying resist-accept-direct principles. The success and longevity of these directed changes will rely on active adaptive management and continued collaboration into the future.
4:20PM Indicators of Ecosystem Transformation in Alaskan Fisheries
  Douglas Limpinsel
Indicators of Ecosystem Transformation are displayed differently depending on the region, processes and species observed. Alaska and the Arctic naturally experience a wide range of generally cold weather patterns that affect fisheries across riverine, estuarine and marine systems. Regional weather patterns have changed significantly; warm condition anomalies are occurring more frequently with longer durations and greater intensity, exacerbating cumulative impacts now identified across biomes and species. Permafrost is melting and ice in larger watersheds is breaking up earlier influenceing hydrology and fisheries downstream. Terrestrial detritus typically benefits marine estuaries and trophic dynamics, however is now a concern as elevated levels of carbon in marine systems may contribute to changing ocean conditions. Reductions in the extent and duration of Arctic sea ice in the Bering Sea has influenced trophic dynamics; altering the range, distribution, and abundance of some fisheries. Weaker weather patterns in the North Pacific have established warmer ocean temperatures creating similar cascades. The abundance of forage fish species has declined, increasing sea bird and marine mammal mortalities. Marine species known to inhabit warmer waters off the west coast are now frequently observed in the Gulf of Alaska.
4:40PM A Rapid Social Threshold May Lead to Long-Term Ecological Transformation By Hippos in Colombia
  Suresh Sethi, Amanda Subalusky, Elizabeth Anderson, German Jimenez, David Echeverri Lopez
African hippos (Hippopotamus amphibious) were released from a private zoo into the Magdalena River in Colombia in 1993. Since then, hippos have thrived and are poised to spread throughout the basin. As ecosystem engineers and a source of potential human-wildlife conflicts, hippo establishment in the region could lead to irreversible social-ecological system change. The immediate management goal is to eradicate introduced hippos, however social perceptions have rapidly evolved with many Colombians accepting or supporting the existence of hippos. Within 15 years after their release, regulations were passed to prohibit the killing of hippos in Colombia, seriously limiting the options available to control the introduction. Here, we develop a population model to estimate hippo abundance and identify feasible management strategies to eradicate hippos in Colombia. We estimate the current hippo population is growing at a rate of 12% per year. Our analyses suggest there is a narrow window of time before hippos become established in this region and the costs of managing this introduction become prohibitively expensive. While basin scale ecological impacts may occur over longer time scales, the Colombian hippo invasion is an important reminder that social and ecological drivers can combine to quickly initiate irreversible ecosystem transformation.

Organizers: Abigail Lynch, Laura M. Thompson
Supported by: The Wildlife Society Climate Change and Wildlife Working Group and the American Fisheries Society

Location: Atlantis Hotel Date: September 30, 2019 Time: 8:00 am - 5:00 pm