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publications > report > DOI science plan in support of ecosystem restoration, preservation, and protection in south florida > plan background and purpose > next steps – prioritizing scientific research and synthesizing results

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Next Steps – Prioritizing Scientific Research and Synthesizing Results

DOI managers will annually prioritize the science needs identified in this plan based on the need to inform land or water management decisions for DOI managed lands and resources, the time period for when scientific input is needed, and/or the extent to which the scientific needs may be unmet by other restoration partners. DOI intends to invest resources to synthesize and disseminate scientific results for managers as part of its responsibilities. The funds supporting the implementation of this science plan will come partly from the available DOI appropriations, such as the CESI (administered by the NPS) and the PES program (administered by the USGS). Other funding sources include DOI's CERP partners, the USACE and the SFWMD. The funding sources will be determined based on the role of each partner in restoration activities and their responsibility for producing the scientific results of interest.

The timetable for the CERP and other restoration projects is an important framework for ecosystem research. However, it will not be possible to resolve all scientific uncertainties before restoration projects are implemented. Managers will rely on an adaptive management approach to ensure that desired results are achieved through a process of monitoring, assessment, and refinement. This will require continuous collection of field data and scientific research to clarify an expanding understanding of the South Florida ecosystem.

Once the data are collected the next step is the synthesis of data into usable information. Currently, the development and utilization of scientific information generated by the Department's bureaus occur at three levels (see figure below). On level one, agency managers identify information needs and pass them to their agency scientists. In return, scientists synthesize the available information to inform the managers' decision-making process. Managers often provide feedback to the scientists during the reporting of the information, allowing for an exchange in information to better inform and accommodate changing needs. This level one synthesis requires technical staff who are trained and experienced in synthesizing science in ways that best support the managers' needs.

On level two, scientists communicate research findings across agencies. This occurs informally by person-to-person contact or more formally at local and national meetings on a particular discipline or topic. The Department's Science Plan, which synthesizes the science needed to answer the major questions critical to the management of all of the Department's trust resources in South Florida, is an example of this level of synthesis. The plan is being used to gain consensus about the highest priority information gaps across all the Department's bureaus and to eliminate duplicative efforts in filling those gaps. Collaborative research by agencies and universities is another example. The Greater Everglades Ecosystem Restoration (GEER) conference is a regional meeting that strongly encourages this level of synthesis, with the added advantage of providing a forum for multidisciplinary exchanges. Other meetings to synthesize information are being considered for topics including the hydrologic impact on ecology; the role of ecosystem history in assessing/predicting historical, current, and future changes in the landscape; the influence of restoration on contaminants (including sulfur and mercury); and the mining of hydrologic flow and stage data to differentiate the influences of sea level rise, water management, and major climatic events on hydrologic dynamics in freshwater flows and coastal interactions.

figure showing the development and utilization of scientific information generated by the Department's bureaus
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Another important aspect of science synthesis is integration of activities that have a common theme. This integration can take many forms, such as periodic meetings among participants in related activities to share information about issues, successes, and failures and to coordinate methods and analyses to advance a collective understanding. A method of information synthesis that is often overlooked by the scientific community is the distillation of complex research findings into condensed, concise, well-illustrated briefing-style publications. The USGS model for such publications is being adopted by other Department agencies for all new science activities.

In addition to the technical capabilities required at level one, level two synthesis requires protocols and communication processes to improve the quality of collaboration and information exchange among scientists.

The third level of synthesis occurs when information collected by various agency and university scientists is jointly presented with the goal of information exchange and informing a collective group of managers. The managers discuss the findings, examine management or policy implications, and set a course of action to incorporate the key insights derived from the scientific information exchange. The Task Force's plan to coordinate science and its Avian Ecology Workshops are examples of the third level of synthesis. In its plan to coordinate science, the Task Force has reviewed strategic science program areas and identified key gaps for further collaborative action. In the avian workshops, the Task Force assembled a panel of scientists who developed a synthesis report from numerous scientific presentations for consideration by the Task Force Working Group. The FWS is directing a substantial new research effort to fill the information gaps identified by the panel.

In addition to the technical capabilities, protocols, and processes required by levels one and two, level three synthesis requires collaborative policies and managers skilled in interagency cooperation and coordinated management.

A key component of the Department's synthesis activities is the effort to integrate its science into the CERP. In the authorization for the CERP (WRDA 2000), Congress asked the Corps to develop programmatic regulations that, among other things, "ensure that new information resulting from changed or unforeseen circumstances, new scientific or technical information or information that is developed through the principles of adaptive management contained in the CERP, or future authorized changes to the CERP are integrated into the Plan." Effective and informed adaptive management requires the synthesis of experimental research (understanding how the ecosystem operates), ecosystem monitoring (observing change), and forecast modeling (predicting change). Much of the earlier research on the South Florida ecosystem focused on establishing a basic understanding of ecosystem structure, processes, and functions. In addition, previous and current research on development of ecological, hydrologic, and chemical models provides a mechanism for synthesizing the data and information into a better understanding of integrative processes within the ecosystem. Although additional experimental/empirical research and model development are still needed, with the recent development of the CERP-related MAP, the opportunity is emerging for greatly improving the synthesis of experimental, monitoring, and modeling studies to effectively inform restoration planners and decision makers.

The Department's management bureaus identified the need for including ecological models in the evaluation of CERP project alternatives and the critical role that the Department needs to play in the IMC. Therefore, PES managers are increasing funding for ecological modeling studies and initiating a new study to implement ecological modeling at the IMC. They also are continuing to evaluate the Department's role at the IMC and will likely be stationing additional NPS personnel at the IMC in the near future.


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Last updated: 04 September, 2013 @ 02:04 PM(KP)