Collaborative decision-analytic framework to maximize resilience of tidal marshes to climate change

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Thorne, Karen M., Brady J. Mattsson, John Takekawa, Jonathan Cummings, Debby Crouse, Giselle Block, Valary Bloom, Matt Gerhart, Steve Goldbeck, Beth Huning, Christina Sloop, Mendel Stewart, Karen Taylor, Laura Valoppi
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Decision makers that are responsible for stewardship of natural resources face many challenges, which are complicated by uncertainty about impacts from climate change, expanding human development, and intensifying land uses. A systematic process for evaluating the social and ecological risks, trade-offs, and cobenefits associated with future changes is critical to maximize resilience and conserve ecosystem services. This is particularly true in coastal areas where human populations and landscape conversion are increasing, and where intensifying storms and sea-level rise pose unprecedented threats to coastal ecosystems. We applied collaborative decision analysis with a diverse team of stakeholders who preserve, manage, or restore tidal marshes across the San Francisco Bay estuary, California, USA, as a case study. Specifically, we followed a structured decision-making approach, and we using expert judgment developed alternative management strategies to increase the capacity and adaptability to manage tidal marsh resilience while considering uncertainties through 2050. Because sea-level rise projections are relatively confident to 2050, we focused on uncertainties regarding intensity and frequency of storms and funding. Elicitation methods allowed us to make predictions in the absence of fully compatible models and to assess short- and long-term trade-offs. Specifically we addressed two questions. (1) Can collaborative decision analysis lead to consensus among a diverse set of decision makers responsible for environmental stewardship and faced with uncertainties about climate change, funding, and stakeholder values? (2) What is an optimal strategy for the conservation of tidal marshes, and what strategy is robust to the aforementioned uncertainties? We found that when taking this approach, consensus was reached among the stakeholders about the best management strategies to maintain tidal marsh integrity. A Bayesian decision network revealed that a strategy considering sea-level rise and storms explicitly in wetland restoration planning and designs was optimal, and it was robust to uncertainties about management effectiveness and budgets. We found that strategies that avoided explicitly accounting for future climate change had the lowest expected performance based on input from the team. Our decision-analytic framework is sufficiently general to offer an adaptable template, which can be modified for use in other areas that include a diverse and engaged stakeholder group.


Thorne, K. M., B. J. Mattsson, J. Takekawa, J. Cummings, D. Crouse, G. Block, V. Bloom, M. Gerhart, S. Goldbeck, B. Huning, C. Sloop, M. Stewart, K. Taylor, and L. Valoppi. 2015. Collaborative decision-analytic framework to maximize resilience of tidal marshes to climate change. Ecology and Society 20(1): 30.