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Ecosystem Modeling for Evaluation of Adaptive Management Policies in the Grand Canyon

Carl J Walters, University of British Columbia
Josh Korman, Ecometric Research Inc.
Lawrence E Stevens, Stevens Ecological Consulting
Barry Gold, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation


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An Adaptive Environmental Assessment and Management workshop process was used to assist Grand Canyon scientists and managers in developing conceptual and simulation models for the Colorado ecosystem affected by Glen Canyon Dam. This model examines ecosystem variables and processes at multiple scales in space and time, ranging from feet and hours for benthic algal response to diurnal flow changes, to reaches and decades for sediment storage and dynamics of long-lived native fish species. Its aim is to help screen policy options ranging from changes in hourly variation in flow allowed from Glen Canyon Dam, to major structural changes for restoration of more natural temperature regimes. It appears that we can make fairly accurate predictions about some components of ecosystem response to policy change (e.g., autochthonous primary production, insect communities, riparian vegetation, rainbow trout population), but we are moderately or grossly uncertain about others (e.g., long-term sediment storage, response of native and non-native fishes to physical habitat restoration). Further, we do not believe that existing monitoring programs are adequate to detect responses of native fishes or vegetation to anything short of gross habitat changes. Some experimental manipulations (such as controlled floods for beach/habitat-building) should proceed, but most should await development of better monitoring programs and sound temporal baseline information from those programs.

Key words

adaptive management, aquatic primary productivity, Colorado River, dam, ecosystem models, Grand Canyon, habitat restoration, hydrology, insect productivity, native fishes, riparian ecosystems, sediment budget

Copyright © 2000 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087