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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Preparing Scientists, Policy-Makers, and Managers for a Fast-Forward Future


Ecosystems in the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta are changing rapidly, as are ecosystems around the world. Extreme events are becoming more frequent and thresholds are likely to be crossed more often, creating greater uncertainty about future conditions. The accelerating speed of change means that ecological systems may not remain stable long enough for scientists to understand them, much less use their research findings to inform policy and management. Faced with these challenges, those involved in science, policy, and management must adapt and change and anticipate what the ecosystems may be like in the future. We highlight several ways of looking ahead—scenario analyses, horizon scanning, expert elicitation, and dynamic planning—and suggest that recent advances in distributional ecology, disturbance ecology, resilience thinking, and our increased understanding of coupled human–natural systems may provide fresh ways of thinking about more rapid change in the future. To accelerate forward-looking science, policy, and management in the Delta, we propose that the State of California create a Delta Science Visioning Process to fully and openly assess the challenges of more rapid change to science, policy, and management and propose appropriate solutions, through legislation, if needed.

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