Research ArticleEDUCATION

Participatory adaptive management leads to environmental learning outcomes extending beyond the sphere of science

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Science Advances  14 Jun 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 6, e1602516
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1602516


Resolving uncertainties in managed social-ecological systems requires adaptive experimentation at whole-ecosystem levels. However, whether participatory adaptive management fosters ecological understanding among stakeholders beyond the sphere of science is unknown. We experimentally involved members of German angling clubs (n = 181 in workshops, n = 2483 in total) engaged in self-governance of freshwater fisheries resources in a large-scale ecological experiment of active adaptive management of fish stocking, which constitutes a controversial management practice for biodiversity and ecosystem functioning when conducted inappropriately. The collaborative ecological experiments spanned several years and manipulated fish densities in 24 lakes with two species. In parallel, we experimentally compared changes in ecological knowledge and antecedents of proenvironmental behavior in stakeholders and managers who were members of a participatory adaptive management treatment group, with those receiving only a standard lecture, relative to placebo controls. Using a within-subjects pretest-posttest control design, changes in ecological knowledge, environmental beliefs, attitudes, norms, and behavioral intentions were evaluated. Participants in adaptive management retained more knowledge of ecological topics after a period of 8 months compared to those receiving a standard lecture, both relative to controls. Involvement in adaptive management was also the only treatment that altered personal norms and beliefs related to stocking. Critically, only the stakeholders who participated in adaptive management reduced their behavioral intentions to engage in fish stocking in the future. Adaptive management is essential for robust ecological knowledge, and we show that involving stakeholders in adaptive management experiments is a powerful tool to enhance ecological literacy and build environmental capacity to move toward sustainability.

  • evidence-based conservation
  • natural resources
  • fisheries management
  • knowledge co-production
  • participation
  • science communication
  • science education

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

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