Title Adaptive Management in Agro-Ecosystems in Pampas: Uncertainty Analysis
Type Research Project
URL no url available
Abstract Agricultural ecosystems combine the complexity, multiplicity of scales, and feedbacks of biophysical interactions in natural ecosystems with the additional intricacies of human decision-making. Climate variability is one of the top sources of risk to agricultural production. In particular, climate fluctuations on seasonal-to-interannual and interdecadal scales are relevant to decision-making, resource management, and infrastructure planning. On seasonal-to-interannual scales, the emerging ability to forecast regional climate variability associated with the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon offers a natural laboratory to learn how a complex system such as agriculture may respond. A good site to study such responses is the Pampas of central-eastern Argentina, a major agricultural region that shows marked interannual and interdecadal climate signals. On interdecadal scales, an increase in spring-summer precipitation since the 1970s has contributed to significant changes in land use patterns and a large increase in Argentine agricultural output. However, there are growing concerns about the environmental consequences and the sustainability of production and life support systems. This project will address the dynamic interactions of natural and human components in agroecosystems. Special emphasis will be placed on assessing the scope for adaptive management in response to newly available knowledge on climate variability and recent insights on human decision-making. The project will (1) map key components of the decision landscape in agricultural systems of the Pampas; (2) build plausible scenarios of interannual and interdecadal climate variability; (3) assess impacts and outcomes of climate variability; (4) seek to understand how probabilistic climate information and uncertainty about outcomes are received and acted upon; (5) explore best practices for the design and communication of climate information and the characterization of uncertainty; (6) assess consequences on natural systems of human actions; and (7) conduct a self-reflective analysis of factors that promote or impede integrative science research and outreach with stakeholder participation. The project involves linked modeling approaches for generation of climate scenarios and decision outcomes, controlled experiments on decision-making and behavior, and participatory research that will draw on contextual knowledge and agricultural stakeholders' experiences and preferences. The link between climate variability and decision-making is a fundamental issue that influences resource management in many regions and sectors. This project will provide an integrated analysis of an important and prevalent complex system (agricultural production) that involves interactions between several natural and human systems. From a perspective of scientific innovation, the project will develop conceptual and procedural approaches to bridge the spatial and temporal scales of climate scenarios and the scales associated with regional impact assessment and resource management. Scale mismatch has been at the heart of problems of climate impact assessment. The project will include a fully probabilistic characterization of uncertainty based on modern statistical and computational techniques. The availability of uncertainty estimates will enhance the salience of project findings for stakeholders. Finally, a reflective analysis of the challenges of interdisciplinary, multiple-place collaboration, and stakeholder involvement in integrative science will stimulate theory development relevant to biocomplexity problems elsewhere. The similarity in production scale, crops grown and technology of the Pampas to those in other major production areas (e.g., the US Midwest, Brazil, Canada) with comparable climate signals suggest a broader relevance of results from the project. This project is supported by an award resulting from the FY 2004 special competition in Biocomplexity in the Environment focusing on the Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems.
Participants Richard Katz
Eva Furrer (NCAR/GSP)
Start Date
Funders NSF
Keywords agro-ecosystems
uncertainty analysis
sensitivity analysis
statistical downscaling climate forecasting
Research Themes Integrated Science and Regional Applications
Assessment Methods, Products and Tools
Climate-Ecosystem-Human Interactions
Use of Scientific Information in Decision Processes
Vulnerability, Adaptation, Thresholds and Resilience


"Because the pathway to sustainability cannot be charted in advance, it will have to be navigated through trial and error and conscious experimentation. The urgent need is to design strategies and institutions that can better integrate incomplete knowledge with experimental action into programs of adaptive management and social learning."
NRC, Our Common Journey (1999)