Adapting environmental management to uncertain but inevitable change

Sam Nicol*, Richard A. Fuller, Takuya Iwamura, Iadine Chadès

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Implementation of adaptation actions to protect biodiversity is limited by uncertainty about the future. One reason for this is the fear of making the wrong decisions caused by the myriad future scenarios presented to decision-makers. We propose an adaptive management (AM) method for optimally managing a population under uncertain and changing habitat conditions. Our approach incorporates multiple future scenarios and continually learns the best management strategy from observations, even as conditions change. We demonstrate the performance of our AM approach by applying it to the spatial management of migratory shorebird habitats on the East Asian–Australasian flyway, predicted to be severely impacted by future sea-level rise. By accounting for non-stationary dynamics, our solution protects 25 000 more birds per year than the current best stationary approach. Our approach can be applied to many ecological systems that require efficient adaptation strategies for an uncertain future.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20142984
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1808
StatePublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Adaptation
  • Adaptive management
  • Climate change
  • East Asian–Australasian flyway
  • Markov decision process
  • Migratory birds


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