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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Adaptive Management, Population Modeling and Uncertainty Analysis for Assessing the Impacts of Noise on Cetacean Populations


Population modeling is now widely used in threatened species management and for predicting the impacts and benefits of competing management options. However, some argue that the results of models must be used with caution, particularly when data are limited. This is important, as even the simplest models would generally require more data (and knowledge) than are available in order to have complete confidence in model predictions. In particular, population models often suffer from a lack of data on demographic rates, spatial distribution, dispersal, management responses, habitat correlations and the magnitude of temporal variations. A number of authors identify behavioral and physiological responses of animals to anthropogenic noise. Assessing population level impacts of noise on cetacean populations is essential to understanding how noise impacts on the future viability of marine mammal populations. This assessment will be particularly challenging due to the difficulties associated with identifying a clear link between behavioral responses of animals and physiological impacts, observing and measuring changes in cetacean population parameters and the long lag-times over which population changes manifest in long-lived species. The urgency of the conservation situation for many of these socially important species demands immediate action, despite pervasive uncertainty. Adaptive management provides a coherent framework for action and continuous improvement under uncertainty. I review the elements of adaptive management and discuss the role of population modeling in that context. I discuss Bayesian approaches to enhancing inferential power and reducing uncertainty in model parameter estimation. I then review approaches to characterizing irreducible uncertainty with Monte Carlo methods and sensitivity analysis and conclude with a brief discussion of formal decision tools available to assist with decision making under severe uncertainty. I propose that urgently needed action should not be postponed due to uncertainty and that adaptive management provides a coherent framework for instituting immediate action with a plan for learning.

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