How indeterminism shapes ecologists' contributions to managing socio-ecological systems

Sarah Michaels, Andrew J. Tyre

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


To make a difference in policy making about socio-ecological systems, ecologists must grasp when decision makers are amenable to acting on ecological expertise and when they are not. To enable them to do so we present a matrix for classifying a socio-ecological system by the extent of what we don't know about its natural components and the social interactions that affects them. We use four examples, Midcontinent Mallards, Laysan Ducks, Pallid Sturgeon, and Rocky Mountain Grey Wolves to illustrate how the combination of natural and social source of indeterminism matters. Where social indeterminism is high, ecologists can expand the range of possible science-based options decision makers might consider even while recognizing societal-based concerns rather than science will dominate decision making. In contrast, where natural indeterminism is low, ecologists can offer reasonably accurate predictions that may well serve as inputs into decision making. Depending on the combination of natural and social indeterminism characterizing a particular circumstance, ecologists have different roles to play in informing socio-ecological system management.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)289-295
Number of pages7
JournalConservation Letters
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2012


  • Indeterminism
  • Risk
  • Science policy interface
  • Socio-ecological systems
  • Uncertainty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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