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Uncertainty, robustness, and the value of information in managing a population of northern bobwhites


  • Associate Editor: Sarah Converse.


The abundance of northern bobwhites (Colinus virginianus) has decreased throughout their range. Managers often respond by considering improvements in harvest and habitat management practices, but this can be challenging if substantial uncertainty exists concerning the cause(s) of the decline. We were interested in how application of decision science could be used to help managers on a large, public management area in southwestern Florida where the bobwhite is a featured species and where abundance has severely declined. We conducted a workshop with managers and scientists to elicit management objectives, alternative hypotheses concerning population limitation in bobwhites, potential management actions, and predicted management outcomes. Using standard and robust approaches to decision making, we determined that improved water management and perhaps some changes in hunting practices would be expected to produce the best management outcomes in the face of uncertainty about what is limiting bobwhite abundance. We used a criterion called the expected value of perfect information to determine that a robust management strategy may perform nearly as well as an optimal management strategy (i.e., a strategy that is expected to perform best, given the relative importance of different management objectives) with all uncertainty resolved. We used the expected value of partial information to determine that management performance could be increased most by eliminating uncertainty over excessive-harvest and human-disturbance hypotheses. Beyond learning about the factors limiting bobwhites, adoption of a dynamic management strategy, which recognizes temporal changes in resource and environmental conditions, might produce the greatest management benefit. Our research demonstrates that robust approaches to decision making, combined with estimates of the value of information, can offer considerable insight into preferred management approaches when great uncertainty exists about system dynamics and the effects of management. Published 2014. This article is a U.S. Government work and is in the public domain in the USA.