February 24, 2016

Abram DaSilva and Kurt Kowalski (USGS), Danielle Haak and Clint Moore (University of Georgia) 

Adaptive management is a type of structured decision-making that confronts and potentially reduces management uncertainty of a particular problem (Figure 1). This strategy is appropriate for managers who are able to address a problem, but must deal with uncertainty about the effectiveness of a variety of possible solutions.

It’s been estimated that about 24,000 hectares (60,000 acres) of Great Lakes shoreline is infested with non-native, invasive Phragmites (Bourgeau-Chavez et al., 2013), and another 340,000 hectares (840,000 acres) are at risk (Carlson Mazur et al., 2014). Often, decisions regarding how to combat Phragmites are made at the land-owner or land-manager level, with limited coordination between neighbors, and without sharing the results of what does and does not work. Resources are available to guide managers in the treatment selection process, but the general guidance doesn’t account for variation in treatment effect based on geographic location, treatment history, local environmental conditions, and other factors that may impact treatment outcome.

Adaptive Management Diagram

Figure 1. Based on the concept of “learning by doing”, the core adaptive management process consists of six basic steps, tailored to each individual problem in order to reduce uncertainty through iterative management actions.

A team of Great Lakes Phragmites Collaborative (GLPC) members is currently working to develop the Phragmites Adaptive Management Framework (PAMF) to facilitate a landscape change in management strategy. Once fully operational, resource managers involved in PAMF will monitor the response of Phragmites to a treatment, upload results to a centralized database, and then receive annual, customized guidance suggesting what action is most likely to achieve objectives in the next round of treatments. The development, or set-up phase, of the framework involves setting measurable objectives, developing state-transition models that hypothesize or predict how Phragmites will respond to each management action, creating a database to hold field-collected data, and establishing a standardized monitoring protocol. The set-up phase is dependent upon the input of involved stakeholders and is forecast to be complete by early summer 2016. Phragmites can’t be treated once – eradication requires repeated action over time. Thus, the iterative phase of PAMF includes applying a treatment, monitoring the results, and recording data in the centralized database. These data will then be used to update the models to generate a customized recommendation for each stakeholder, suggesting which action is most likely to achieve the manager’s objectives in the next round of treatments.

Consistent with the goals of the GLPC, PAMF will unite resource managers, researchers, and other stakeholders in the Great Lakes basin in an effort to promote enduring conservation by establishing and furthering cooperation and transparent decision making in the face of uncertainty. This cooperative effort is a more cost- and time-efficient approach for the stakeholder than a ‘go it alone’ approach. PAMF will enable resource-managers in the Great Lakes basin to control invasive Phragmites better by creating a centralized database accessible to all stakeholders, standardizing a scalable monitoring protocol, providing management recommendations specific for each Phragmites patch, and reducing the uncertainty regarding treatment effectiveness. Ultimately, PAMF will help protect the investment already made by land-managers throughout the region and support management decisions for a long, long time.


  • Bourgeau-Chavez L.L., Kowalski K.P., Carlson Mazur M.L., Scarbrough K.A., Powell R.B., Brooks C.N., Huberty B., Jenkins L.K., Banda E.C., Galbraith D.M., Laubach Z.M., Riordan K. 2013. Mapping invasive Phragmites australis in the coastal Great Lakes with ALOS PALSAR satellite imagery for decision support. Remote Sensing of the Great Lakes and Other Inland Waters. 39:65–77
  • Carlson Mazur, M.L., Kowalski, K.P., Galbraith, D. 2014. Assessment of suitable habitat for Phragmites australis (common reed) in the Great Lakes coastal zone. Aquat. Invasions9:1–19