Conservation and Resource Management Program

The Conservation and Resource Management Program leverages NCEAS’ core strengths -- analysis and synthesis of existing data -- to inform sustainable management of ecological systems at local, regional, and global scales. We aim to advance scientific knowledge and tools, to simultaneously conduct ecological research and meet the needs of practitioners. Accordingly, we develop scientifically reliable, cost-effective approaches to understanding ecological patterns, while also evaluating the underlying mechanisms and the influences of human actions on those patterns and processes. Our work therefore incorporates social as well as natural and physical sciences. Various approaches to modeling and geospatial analysis are integral to many of our projects.

The Conservation and Resource Management Program offers rigorous, practical training opportunities for students and young professionals. Importantly, we also communicate the scientific process and results from NCEAS’ activities to policy makers and the public.

Ongoing Projects | Completed Projects

Contact Us:
hampton [at] nceas [dot] ucsb [dot] edu (Stephanie Hampton)

Ongoing Projects

Ecosystem-based Management of Coastal Marine Systems

Supported by The David and Lucile Packard Foundation

In 2004, the United States Commission for Ocean Policy called on decision makers to balance resource use with sustainability. The Commission urged a move toward ecosystem-based management informed by sound science. The David and Lucile Packard Foundation has developed a strategic vision to fill urgent needs related to these charges. To support this vision, NCEAS has launched a diverse program. Our activities focus on developing the scientific understanding and processes involved in implementing ecosystem-based management and cover topics ranging from the ecology of coastal marine systems to integration of science into the decision making process.

Working Groups, Postdoctoral Associates, and graduate students are synthesizing and analyzing existing data. They also are filling key gaps in knowledge and developing new tools that are critical to successful implementation of ecosystem-based management. Many of these efforts have led to influential scientific papers. In addition, NCEAS is working with practitioners and policy makers to render scientific knowledge directly useful to conservation and management. We aim to change the conceptual foundation for managing coastal marine systems. We also strive to build capacity at the level of individuals, institutions, and networks.

EBM Working Groups, Workshops and Other Activities

Sponsor's Role: The sponsor of this project, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, participates in some meetings of the project's advisory committee.  


Declines of Pelagic Organisms in the Upper San Francisco Estuary, California 

Supported by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service 

Abundance indices of several pelagic fishes in the upper San Francisco Estuary, delta smelt, age-0 striped bass, longfin smelt, and threadfin shad, have been unusually low since 2001. These fishes are of ecological, economic, and political importance. For example, protection of delta smelt affects water diversions that supply drinking water to more than 22 million people in California and support a multi-billion dollar agricultural industry. With support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Interagency Ecological Program and NCEAS are collaborating to gain a better understanding of the specific causes and mechanisms behind the organism declines in the San Francisco Estuary. We further aim to place these declines in the broader context of estuarine degradation, organism declines, and approaches to solving these problems in other geographic regions. In particular, we are interested in exploring other systems that might serve as models for how to approach issues in the San Francisco Estuary and ultimately might lead to general principles for estuarine research, management, and conservation.

Sponsor's Role: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has played no direct role in selection of participants or facilitation of research activities.  


Finding Common Ground in Marine Conservation and Management: Distributed Graduate Seminar

Supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

There is increasing concern among scientists, resource managers, and the general public about the current state of marine fisheries and their supporting ecosystems. Recent scientific progress on this topic has been partly overshadowed by significant controversy on how to assess marine resources and how to address current problems in ocean management. Marine ecologists and fisheries scientists often tend to favor contrasting approaches, and we observe that these schools of thought have polarized over time. We now recognize this situation as counterproductive.

An NCEAS Working Group is engaged both in defining common ground among marine ecologists and fisheries scientists and, for focusing future research, in identifying areas of continued disagreement. The central question being addressed is: how can we merge contrasting objectives, tools, and scientific criteria among marine ecology, fisheries science, and management into a unifying framework. Clearly, one of the solutions to polarization is to expose young scientists to the goals and approaches of the various interested parties dealing with these issues.  NCEAS, with the support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation , will coordinate such an effort by offering a Distributed Graduate Seminar (DGS) that will involve graduate students and mentors from six universities in the research process.

Sponsor's Role: The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation plays no direct role in selection of the participants or in the facilitation of research activities.



Economic Impact of Non-native Forest Pests and Pathogens in North America

 Supported by The Nature Conservancy

The ecological effects of many non-native forest pests and pathogens in North America have been well documented. The economic costs of these effects, however, have not been estimated credibly. NCEAS will synthesize ecological data on forest invaders and conduct complementary economic analyses. This will allow us to make informed decisions regarding alternative strategies for controlling forest invaders. The project will examine the extent to which current knowledge allows credible prediction of the effects of emerging pests and pathogens. We will also investigate the economic impacts of non-native forest insects and diseases on ecosystem services provided by forests. Integration of ecological and economic data will lead to development of least cost / greatest benefit approaches that can be implemented by practitioners.

Sponsor's Role: The sponsor of this project, The Nature Conservancy, is represented on the project's Steering Committee. 


New Tools for Incorporating Landscape and Population Connectivity into Conservation Planning

Supported by the Wilburforce Foundation

Conservation area design (CAD) is being used by many landscape-scale conservation efforts in western North America to establish geographic priorities and to raise awareness within the scientific, practitioner, and lay communities of the importance of critical areas. However, CAD techniques currently cannot evaluate factors that allow species and their resources to persist over time. These factors include land-cover connectivity and the resilience of reserve networks to ecological processes such as fire. Several new methods for CAD are emerging that have the potential to improve greatly on past methods. These new methods are unfamiliar to most practitioners, and no comparative evaluation of their usefulness in different contexts exists. Participants will test and compare new tools by applying them to conservation-planning challenges in several geographic areas in North America. Participants also will develop a manual that evaluates new software tools for connectivity analysis, with guidelines for use of those tools. Ultimately, the group will develop a software toolkit and guidelines for its use that would be applicable to landscape-scale conservation planning in any region.

Sponsor's Role: The sponsor of this project, the Wilburforce Foundation, has played no direct role in selection of participants or facilitation of research activities. 


Development and Application of Scientific Knowledge to Ecosystem-based Management of Coastal Marine Systems

Supported by The David and Lucile Packard Foundation

This project will allow NCEAS to increase our focus on development and application of science to meet the needs of conservation practitioners. During the first year of the project, we will consult with practitioners to identify synthetic research topics most relevant to implementation of ecosystem-based management. We then will develop a work plan for years two and three that addresses synthetic research, communications, and tools. As part of the latter work plan, we will issue a call for proposals for working groups will reflects the needs and input of practitioners of ecosystem-based management. We will convene two or three working groups on ecological topics, socioeconomic issues, or tools that bear on management of coastal–marine ecosystems. The call for proposals will be disseminated to and promoted among practitioners as well as scientists, and we will state a strong preference for working groups that represent diverse categories of practitioners as well as scientists based in academia. We will engage with communications professionals to develop work plans for maximizing the communications potential of each working group.

Sponsor’s role: The David and Lucile Packard Foundation participates in general oversight of the project.


Prediction of Responses of Wild Pacific Salmon to Climate Change

Supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

Four working groups and six postdoctoral or research associates (two based at NCEAS) will conduct synthetic research on the following high-priority research topics. (1) identification of mechanisms that limit the geographic range of salmon populations and exploration of how these mechanisms may change as climate changes, (2) development of monitoring programs that can identify changes in populations of Pacific salmon and attribute those changes to different potential mechanisms, including climatic change, (3) examination of the relative importance of evolutionary and plastic responses of Pacific salmon to climate change, and (4) classification of salmon populations along a gradient of sensitivity or resilience to climate change, and potential management strategies that may benefit salmon populations along that gradient.

To facilitate opportunities for learning and data sharing among the working groups, principal investigators and a subset of participants from each group periodically will compare approaches and preliminary results. We also will engage communication professionals in developing a strategy for disseminating the eventual results of the working groups and the project as a whole.

Sponsor’s role: The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation participates in general oversight of the project.


Climate Change and Wildlife Conservation

Supported by the Wildlife Conservation Society

NCEAS is hosting this working group in partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society. A major hurdle facing the conservation community is incorporation of climate science into practical, on the ground management. There has been much talk on theoretical aspects of this integration, but we need more detailed recommendations from the climate science and conservation communities regarding the practical application of that science. A main goal of this project will be to utilize a case study approach to demonstrate how the integration of climate science and conservation can be achieved. Case studies will be performed in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and potentially in other locations in North America.

Sponsor's Role: The Wildlife Conservation Society is a partner in this effort, which ultimately is supported by the Henry P. Kendall Foundation, the Surdna Foundation, and the Marisla Foundation. The foundations have played no direct role in selection of participants or facilitation of research activities. 


Experimental Design for Detection of Species Response to Management Actions Across Scales

Supported by NOAA Fisheries

Broad-scale ecological experiments (e.g., in management, restoration, or basic research) are frequently undertaken but are often quite opportunistic in nature, such that they are difficult to design and coordinate. Many lack a conceptual framework articulating linkages across scales - from the scale of the individual experimental unit to the scales relevant for ecological responses.  This disconnect limits a researcher's capacity to attribute causation when variables of interest change, such as species responses to specific restoration actions or other environmental drivers.

Before and After Henniker Dam removal on the Contoocook River in New Hampshire, USA, photo by NOAA

NCEAS will host a Working Group , selected through an open Call for Proposals , to convene recognized experts working in diverse fields with experience relevant to multi-scale experimental design in situations where replication and extrapolation are challenging. As with other NCEAS projects, the group will propose to rigorously analyze and synthesize existing data and literature, asking general questions about approaches that lead to the detection of species-level effects in landscape contexts.

Advisory panel: Cathy Pfister, Sarah Gergel, Brian Riddell, David Allan, David Busch

NCEAS Contact: hampton [at] nceas [dot] ucsb [dot] edu (Stephanie Hampton)

Sponsors Role: The sponsor of this project, NOAA Fisheries, plays no direct role in selection of the advisory panel or participants, or in the facilitation of research activities.


A Risk Assessment for Climate Change and Forest Pathogens in Western North America

Supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service

NCEAS, the Western Wildland Environmental Threat Assessment Center, and the USDA Forest Service's Pacific Southwest Research Station are collaborating to develop a risk assessment for climate change and forest pathogens in western North America. This project will bring together individuals with expertise in forest pathology, quantitative modeling, and climate science. Ultimately, we anticipate that the project will yield two products:

(1) a manuscript, suitable for submission to a peer-reviewed journal, on design and output of models describing relationships between climate change and forest pathogens in western North America 

(2) a risk assessment for forest pathogens in western North America under a changing climate

Sponsor's role: The Western Wildland Environmental Threat Assessment Center and Pacific Southwest Research Station are partners in this project.


Completed Projects


Non-market Ecological Valuation of Coastal Marine Resources in California

Supported by the Ocean Protection Council

NCEAS and the Ocean Protection Council evaluated and synthesized methods for deriving the value of ecosystem services that are provided by coastal marine resources in California. A working group convened by NCEAS compiled a lexicon related to valuation of ecosystem services and created a preliminary list of services in coastal marine California that are expedient and tractable to value. Investigators evaluated and synthesized methods for deriving the value of ecosystem services and considered the extent to which surrogate measures of market or non-market values can be developed and implemented. In addition, the project assessed the uncertainty in direct or indirect measurements of ecosystem services and discussed how those uncertainties might affect management options or decisions. Participants calculated the value of services provided by two estuaries in California and defined the potential uncertainties associated with those values.

Sponsor's Role: The Ocean Protection Council participates in general oversight of the project. 

The Economic Value of Coastal Ecosystems in California

Linking Regional Initiatives for Ecosystem-based Management

Supported by The David and Lucile Packard Foundation

Seven projects in North America and the western Pacific, supported by The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, are working to design practical, transparent, and politically feasible management frameworks that advance coastal-marine sustainability. This process of ecosystem-based management has not yet been defined formally or codified into specific practice. To this end, NCEAS and Foundations of Success will work with the seven projects to help them both define and improve management efforts at their sites. We will examine the potential to develop a collaborative learning network, and to build capacity for data analysis, synthesis, and communication into the individual projects and the network.

Sponsor's Role: The sponsor of this project, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, worked with the project leaders to identify appropriate representatives from the Foundation's Regional Initiatives to participate in project activities.


Data-driven Review of Ecosystem-based Management Efforts
Distributed Graduate Seminar

Over the last decade there have been a wide range of efforts to implement ecosystem management in various systems (e.g., the Everglades, Greater Yellowstone, the Interior Columbia Basin, Serengeti-Mara, and the Great Barrier Reef). Although there have been several recent reviews of ecosystem management, these have not been quantitative or deeply analytical. This project used a distributed graduate seminar model to examine information regarding past ecosystem-based management efforts. Participants considered factors such as explicit goals, key elements and sequencing of the process, institutional attributes, implementation, degree of integration of science and decision-making, and outcomes. Faculty and graduate students from seven universities collaborated to assess successes and failures. They evaluated why particular efforts succeeded and failed, and identified lessons learned for management of coastal-marine systems. Locally, participants in each seminar collaborated to synthesize data for a particular example of ecosystem-based management and to develop a database of EBM activities and attributes. Participants in each seminar collaborated to synthesize data for a particular example of ecosystem-based management and to develop a database of EBM activities and attributes. A final working group meeting, involving 43 graduate students and faculty members from all participating universities, was held at NCEAS in February of 2005 to synthesize information from all case studies.

Participating Universities
Ben Gurion University, Israel
Florida International University
University of New Hampshire
University of Queensland, Australia
University of California, Santa Barbara
University of Washington
Virgina Institute of Marine Science
Fall 2005


Wild Salmon Ecosystems

Supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation
Wild Salmon EcosystemsClimate is a major driver of the geographic distribution and abundance of salmon. Climate change is occurring globally, yet there has been no organized effort to evaluate the potential effects of climate change on salmon and their ecosystems. Sufficient data and expertise exist to conduct such an assessment. Developing and implementing a process to synthesize the data is the critical step toward achieving this evaluation. This project will initiate a synthesis of existing data on the potential effects of climate change on salmon. In collaboration with a Steering Committee assembled by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, NCEAS will convene a multidisciplinary group of approximately 45 scientists and practitioners. With NCEAS’ leadership, these experts will identify the most important topics related to the effects of climate change on salmon and their ecosystems. The group will then develop a strategic framework for conducting targeted data analyses and syntheses.

Sponsor's Role: The sponsor of this project, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, selected members of the Steering Committee and helped to facilitate a workshop held in Santa Barbara in late February and early March 2007. The Steering Committee invited participants in project activities, who functioned as independent researchers.   



Sustainable Fisheries Group

Supported by The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation

The Sustainable Fisheries Group (SFG) is an alliance formed in 2006 to address the critical need for fundamental change in the management of coastal marine fisheries. Initially funded by a generous grant from The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, the SFG represents a collaboration among the University of California, Santa Barbara's Marine Science Institute,the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis. The group aims to reform management of fisheries to better align economic incentives for fishermen with enhancement of ocean stewardship and ecosystem health. With group members who are leaders in ecology, resource economics, marine science, conservation practice, and policy, the SFG works directly with fishing communities in reform efforts. The SFG views sustainability of fisheries through the lens of robust communities and ports, healthy fish stocks and their habitats, and the availability of local, nutritious seafood to consumers. Our goal is to provide optimal management strategies that can be readily adapted to fisheries worldwide.

Sponsor's Role: The sponsor of this project, The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, has played no direct role in selection of participants or facilitation of research activities.