This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Effects of uncertainty on conservation decisions and ecological inference




Dunham, Kylee

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation


Forestry and Wildlife Science


Uncertainty is pervasive in ecology and conservation. Ecological systems are dynamic, and therefore inference from observations and subsequent decision-making can be hampered due to observation and process error. Assessing and characterizing the relative impacts of observation and process errors is important for sound ecological inference and conservation or management decisions. My research evaluates the effects of uncertainty on a threatened species listing decision and explores the reduction of uncertainty on predictive measures of species viability, understanding demographic and ecological mechanisms influencing population variation, and the impacts of accounting for these uncertainties on making conservation decisions. I apply this research to spectacled eiders (Somateria fischeri), a federally threatened species listed under the Endangered Species Act. My research aims to further our understanding of the effects of uncertainty by addressing the following questions; (1) How does uncertainty affect conservation decisions? and (2) What is the relative value of accounting for, and ultimately reducing those uncertainties for ecological inference and decision-making? I specifically address the impacts of imperfect detection, sampling variation, ecological uncertainty, and structural uncertainty on gaining ecological knowledge and making conservation decisions. Understanding the role of uncertainty in studying species ecology and informing conservation decisions is imperative for effective biodiversity conservation strategies.