Intervention-forward Adaptive Management in the Face of Extinction

Melanie Dickie
Adam Ford
Robin Steenweg
Robert Serrouya
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The Anthropocene has spurred the onset of the Earth’s sixth mass extinction, resulting in global calls to accelerate efforts to restore ecosystems and the newly negotiated Kunming–Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. Conservation leaders emphasize identifying and addressing underlying mechanisms of population decline to avoid misplaced efforts, limited recovery success, and degraded public trust. Identifying the mechanisms of decline is challenging under scenarios with concurring threats of habitat loss, disease, climate change, and overexploitation of populations, particularly when threats are interacting and cumulative. The challenges to addressing complex mechanisms of decline have prompted calls for removing all probable threats (or agents) of decline, eloquently paraphrased by Krebs: ‘Several suspected agents of decline may have to be removed at once... It is better to save the species than to achieve scientific purity.’ This philosophy is most effectively applied within a framework of adaptive management (AM), where, to the degree possible, management interventions such as habitat restoration, predator/competitor control, or population augmentation are treated as experiments. AM has the potential to restore ecosystems and gain scientific insights to provide information that guides future efforts. However, as identified by Månsson and colleagues, AM has been hindered by sociopolitical constraints, perceived costs, and ecological complexity. Given the urgency to halt and reverse the loss of biodiversity, we suggest a new approach to maximize the likelihood of recovery while maintaining the scientific benefits of an experimental approach to management: applying all plausible interventions at the onset of significant population decline, followed by strategically removing interventions to facilitate learning