Cooperative Research Units
Education, Research And Technical Assistance For Managing Our Natural Resources
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Integrating adaptive management, resilience thinking and optimization


August 2011 - December 2015


The natural resources management paradigm has been shifting from traditional command-and-control to a focus on complex social-ecological systems and explicit recognition of uncertainty. Adaptive management is an approach combining management actions and scientific investigation to increase understanding of environmental systems. It is a structured, “learning by doing” method to management that embraces uncertainty and change. Resilience thinking acknowledges the presence of multiple stable states in nature and considers the extent to which a given system can absorb perturbation before shifting into a different organization of functions and processes. Central to resilience theory is the awareness of the ubiquity of surprise in social-ecological systems. Optimization is a conservation tool used to make transparent management decisions based on explicit values and objectives. Adaptive management, resilience thinking, and optimization have all been suggested as appropriate ways to implement the emerging social-ecological management paradigm, but translation into practice remains a challenge.

Structured decision making is a process for making smarter decisions that involves the clear elucidation of problems, objective, alternatives, consequences, and tradeoffs. This research project seeks to explore how structured decision making can link resilience, adaptive management, and optimization in order to generate a cohesive method of implementing the emerging social-ecological paradigm. Research conducted as part of this project will involve:
1. Translating resilience theory into natural resource management practices using structured decision making;
2. Investigating how optimization can be used to address resilience objectives;
3. Exploring the potential for adaptive management under State Wildlife Grants, focusing on the Nebraska Natural Legacy Project;
4. Creating frameworks for operationalizing future natural resources management projects that engage adaptive management, resilience thinking, and optimization.


Current Staff

Federal Staff: 95

Masters Students: 249

Phd Students: 143

Post Docs: 55

University Staff: 247

5 Year Summary

Students graduated: 679

Scientific Publications: 1936

Presentations: 4251



  • Craig AllenPrincipal Investigator
  • Noelle HartStudent

Funding Agencies

  • NSF


Cooperative Research Units Program Headquarters Cooperators

  1. U.S. Geological Survey