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Managing uncertainty in climate-driven ecological models to inform adaptation to climate change

Posted date: October 05, 2011
Publication Year: 
Authors: Littell, Jeremy S.; McKenzie, Donald; Kerns, Becky K.; Cushman, Samuel A.; Shaw, Charles G.
Publication Series: 
Scientific Journal (JRNL)
Source: Ecosphere. 2(9): Article 102.


The impacts of climate change on forest ecosystems are likely to require changes in forest planning and natural resource management. Changes in tree growth, disturbance extent and intensity, and eventually species distributions are expected. In natural resource management and planning, ecosystem models are typically used to provide a "best estimate" about how forests might work in the future and thus guide decision-making. Ecosystem models can be used to develop forest management strategies that anticipate these changes, but limited experience with models and model output is a challenge for managers in thinking about how to address potential effects of climate change. What do decision makers need to know about climate models, ecological models used for impacts assessments, and the uncertainty in model projections in order to use model output in strategies for adaptation to climate change? We present approaches for understanding and reducing the uncertainty associated with modeling the effects of climate change on ecosystems, focusing on multi-model approaches to clarify the strengths and limits of projections and minimize vulnerability to undesirable consequences of climate change. Scientific uncertainties about changes in climate or projections of their impacts on resources do not present fundamental barriers to management and adaptation to climate change. Instead, many of these uncertainties can be controlled by characterizing their effects on models and future projections from those models. There is uncertainty in decision making that does not derive just from the complex interaction of climate and ecosystem models, but in how modeling is integrated with other aspects of the decision environment such as choice of objectives, monitoring, and approach to assessment. Adaptive management provides a hedge against uncertainty, such that climate and ecosystem models can inform decision making.


Littell, Jeremy S.; McKenzie, Donald; Kerns, Becky K.; Cushman, Samuel; Shaw, Charles G. 2011. Managing uncertainty in climate-driven ecological models to inform adaptation to climate change. Ecosphere. 2(9): Article 102.