benefits are often a part of the mix of information that stakeholders or government officials use to select management actions. Actually implementing potentially beneficial policies thus winnows the uncertainty in system response, albeit in a reversible and experimental sense. Adaptive management therefore provides a mechanism for learning systematically about the links between human societies and ecosystems. In contrast, the learning that occurs in economic models with option values is purely passive—information about the value of an environmental system is acquired with the passage of time. If one believes that additional information could be influential in selecting the best environmental policy option, then adaptive management is a natural step from the passive concept of an option value associated with gaining information to the concept of managing the ecosystem to learn and so reduce uncertainty. When an adaptive management approach is possible, which will not always be the case, the option value associated with conservation is likely to be increased because of the enhanced rate of information acquisition.

Adaptive management often uses explicit dynamic modeling or conceptual models of large complex ecosystems. These computer models are useful for two purposes. First, building an explicit numerical model requires a clear statement of what is known and what is assumed, which helps to expose broad gaps in data and understanding that are easily overlooked in verbal and qualitative assessments. Second, even crude models can help “screen” policy options and eliminate those that are simply too small in scale to be important or would be unacceptably risky given uncertainty about directions of response in key policy indicators (Walters et al., 2000). Proponents of adaptive management have long emphasized the importance of such modeling (Holling, 1978; Walters, 1986). Adaptive management is not a tool for ecosystem valuation or a method of valuation per se, nor does it require valuation. Rather, by reducing uncertainty and illuminating relationships within the ecosystem and between the ecosystem and human actions, it aids management and decision-making and may make economic valuation easier and more accurate.


Decision Criteria

Just as there are different types of uncertainty, there are also different ways in which an analyst can allow for uncertainty in the support of environmental decision-making. A central issue is how to account for the range of possible outcomes (the variability of outcomes) that is an inevitable result of uncertainty. A widely used criterion for decision-making is to choose the alternative that yields the greatest expected value of benefits. This rates as equal all distributions of outcomes that have the same mean even if they have very different higher moments and so ignores information about variability. However, this

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