Search this journal:     Advanced search

A framework for deriving and triggering thresholds for management intervention in uncertain, varying and time-lagged systems

Robert J. Scholes, Judith M. Kruger

Koedoe; Vol 53, No 2 (2011), 8 pages. doi: 10.4102/koedoe.v53i2.987

Submitted: 20 January 2010
Published:  06 April 2011


Ecosystems are characterised by complexity: high connectivity, the presence of positive and negative feedback loops, non-linear, abrupt and sometimes irreversible changes, delays between cause and effects, and uncertainties in observations, understanding and prediction. ‘Adaptive management’ is the preferred approach for the rational management of such systems. Where the management objective is to allow natural feedbacks and adaptive processes to operate as much as possible – as it is in many areas set aside for biodiversity conservation – a key issue is defining the thresholds that will trigger management intervention. This paper outlines and illustrates a logical process for doing so, taking into account the characteristics of complex, continuously changing ecosystems and the reality of information that is partial and understanding that is always provisional. After identifying a key ecological process that is believed to have an element of irreversibility beyond a certain point, the process has several steps, (1) define an indicator of the system state, (2) set a limit of acceptable change and add a safety margin, (3) project the indicator forward using a model, including uncertainty, (4) note the time when the indicator might transgress the safety-buffered limit and (5) subtract ecosystem and management response times. If the resultant time is at hand, an action is indicated – if not, the action is to continue to monitor the situation and refine the observations and models.

Conservation implications: Ecosystems are characterized by abrupt and sometimes irreversible changes. The challenge that face conservationists and managers are to identify which of these changes are likely to be irreversible and at what levels this will occur. This paper describes a logical process that enable mangers to determine which ecological processes have levels of irreversibility and monitor their status at all times. Once these processes are nearing the levels that are undesirable management actions can be invoked to prevent this from happening.

Full Text:  |  HTML  |  EPUB  |  XML  |  PDF (1MB)

Author affiliations

Robert J. Scholes, Natural Resources and Environment, CSIR, Pretoria, South Africa
Judith M. Kruger, South African National Parks, Skukuza, South Africa


Total abstract views: 2342
Total article views: 6267  


1. Response of instream animal communities to a short-term extreme event and to longer-term cumulative impacts in a strategic water resource area, South Africa
SH Foord, PSO Fouché
African Journal of Aquatic Science  vol: 41  issue: 1  first page: 29  year: 2016  
doi: 10.2989/16085914.2015.1125336

2. Bounded ranges of variation as a framework for future conservation and fire management
Max A. Moritz, Matthew D. Hurteau, Katharine N. Suding, Carla M. D'Antonio
Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences  vol: 1286  issue: 1  first page: 92  year: 2013  
doi: 10.1111/nyas.12104

3. The development and application of strategic adaptive management within South African National Parks
Dirk J. Roux, Llewellyn C. Foxcroft
Koedoe  vol: 53  issue: 2  year: 2011  
doi: 10.4102/koedoe.v53i2.1049

Comments on this article

Before posting your comment, please read our policy.
Post a Comment (Login required)

ISSN: 0075-6458 (print) | ISSN: 2071-0771 (online)

Connect on: Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube

Subscribe to our newsletter

All articles published in this journal are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license, unless otherwise stated.

Website design & content: ©2016 AOSIS (Pty) Ltd. All rights reserved. No unauthorised duplication allowed.

AOSIS Publishing | Empowering Africa through access to knowledge
Postnet Suite #110, Private Bag X19, Durbanville, South Africa, 7551Tel: 086 1000 381 Tel: +27 21 975 2602 Fax: 086 5004 974

publishing(AT) replace (AT) with @

Please read the privacy statement.