Data Management and Analysis Tools Supporting Adaptive Management in South African Parks

Principal Investigator(s): 

Matthew B. Jones, Mark Schildhauer, Judith Kruger, O.J. Reichman, Kevin L. S. Drury

Increasingly, wildlife populations are managed using a framework known as "adaptive management", in which management strategies are treated as scientific experiments. Scientists responsible for wildlife populations, such as those in large national parks, can evaluate the results of their management experiments to see which work best. The scientists and managers of Kruger National Park (KNP), South Africa, use just this approach. Kruger National Park is faced with a challenge common to many research stations where dozens of loosely coordinated monitoring and experimental projects are underway at any time. The main challenge is how to effectively collect, present, and preserve this highly variable collection of scientific data so that it can be used to inform park management decisions.

To help inform managers about the status of various attributes of the park, such as how tree densities change with elephant densities, or how disease levels in buffalo populations are changing, Kruger has developed a very specific set of Thresholds of Potential Concern (TPC). TPC's can be thought of as acceptable upper and lower limits in selected environmental indicators. Park scientists and managers collect data and then test whether the indicators are still within the acceptable upper and lower limits set for them. By identifying areas of concern as well as indicators to measure them, managers can see where the park ecosystem stands in relation to its goals.

In this project, scientists and software engineers are collaborating to develop computer programs that run automatically, on a periodic basis, to test for TPC crossings. These TPC workflows, created using Kepler software, will analyze the data, check if a TPC has been exceeded, and then output the results to a Web-based reporting system. Additionally, because the data files and numbers used by Kepler are visible on the Web, park scientists can experiment and explore possible future scenarios by changing the values of these numbers, rerunning the workflow, and comparing the new experimental output with their management goals.

The TPC approach being adopted at each of the 22 South African national parks (SANParks) will tremendously advance the state of their quantitative adaptive management.

Link to SANParks Data Repository

More information about this research project, participants, and publications.