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Participatory adaptive management leads to environmental learning outcomes extending beyond the sphere of science
Science Advances
Resolving uncertainties in managed social-ecological systems requires adaptive experimentation at whole-ecosystem levels. However, whether participatory adaptive management fosters ecological understanding among stakeholders beyond the sphere of science is unknown. We experimentally involved members of German angling clubs (n=181 in workshops, n= 2483 in total) engaged in self-governance of freshwater fisheries resources in a large-scale ecological experiment of active adaptive management of fish stocking, which constitutes a controversial management practice for biodiversity and ecosystem functioning when conducted inappropriately. The collaborative ecological experiments spanned several years and manipulated fish densities in 24 lakes with two species. In parallel, we experimentally compared changes in ecological knowledge and antecedents of proenvironmental behavior in stakeholders and managers who were members of a participatory adaptive management treatment group, with those receiving only a standard lecture, relative to placebo controls. Using a within-subjects pretest-posttest control design, changes in ecological knowledge, environmental beliefs, attitudes, norms, and behavioral intentions were evaluated. Participants in adaptive management retained more knowledge of ecological topics after a period of 8 months compared to those receiving a standard lecture, both relative to controls. Involvement in adaptive management was also the only treatment that altered personal norms and beliefs related to stocking. Critically, only the stakeholders who participated in adaptive management reduced their behavioral intentions to engage in fish stocking in the future. Adaptive management is essential for robust ecological knowledge, and we show that involving stakeholders in adaptive management experiments is a powerful tool to enhance ecological literacy and build environmental capacity to move toward sustainability.
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