Efforts to restore and protect the Great Lakes can benefit from increased use of conceptual frameworks. This report is the result of a National Wildlife Federation-led 2018 summit involving nearly two dozen natural and social scientists in the region, sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research at the University of Michigan.
Conceptual frameworks or models describe and visualize how ecosystems are organized and how their various parts interact. These models can be particularly useful in ecosystem restoration and protection work for multiple reasons, including:
Although such frameworks or models have been referenced or used to varying extents in Great Lakes restoration programs, projects, and research efforts (including in the earlier Prescription for Great Lakes Ecosystem Protection and Restoration report that informed this effort), they do not appear to have been used in large programs to the same extent as in other large ecosystems in the U.S.
The authors of this report identify a number of important characteristics that should be present in a useful conceptual framework, including relation to terminology, the ability to be scaled (e.g. larger or smaller areas), explicitly identified management responses, and the ability to be communicated to broader audiences. The authors also propose a general framework that would be hierarchical and draw on existing frameworks, including showing the relationships from key drivers (e.g. climate change) to changes in attributes (e.g. fish condition), with a broader framework that would then be applied to individual Great Lakes, and then smaller areas of each lake, with separate models for each.
The authors also briefly explore governance issues, and envision roles for major players involved in research, monitoring, and restoration and protection practice in the Basin, including federal agencies, academia, private industry, and NGOs. The report argues that a more systematic use of conceptual frameworks in all restoration and protection activities can optimize the effectiveness of restoration and protection programs throughout the Great Lakes region.
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