Ecology expert Lance Gunderson visits NRT

NRT Class
Eleven students and four faculty members attended Gunderson’s class, filling the NRT lab to capacity.

Professor Lance Gunderson ranks among the top ecologists in the world, so graduate student Manas Khan was impressed when Nebraska’s National Research Traineeship program brought the Emory University professor to campus to instruct 11 students on adaptive management August 14-17.

“With more than 29,000 citations of his work, Professor Gunderson is one of the top 75 ecologists in the field of ecology,” Khan said. “In my field of hydrology, there are only nine people with more than 29,000 citations, so being able to take part in the short-term course on adaptive management through the NRT program was a great opportunity for me.”

The NRT provided nine graduate students in the program and two from outside the program, Khan and Hugh Ellerman, with a rare opportunity to speak directly with an internationally known scientist and receive instruction from him. Funded by the National Science Foundation in 2017 at Nebraska, the NRT program takes on an additional five students each year so that they can receive training and perform research on world problems that cross disciplinary boundaries.

Gunderson uses one approach to address such problems. He discussed how adaptive assessments, adaptive management, and adaptive governance bring together scientists from different disciplines to focus on generating imaginative solutions to “wicked problems” such as a rising world population using limited resources and the effects of climate change.

NRT student
Lance Gunderson, internationally known expert on adaptive management, discussed model building with Hugh Ellerman and Manas Khan during his visit to Nebraska August 14-17. The NRT provides graduate students with funding and the rare opportunity to interact more closely with scientific experts such as Gunderson. Although not funded by the NRT program, Ellerman and Khan and a few other graduate students have been able to take part alongside NRT students in some of the program’s classes and activities.

“Simple approaches don’t work anymore,” he said. “These collaborative approaches are much more useful and robust in addressing these problems and seeking solutions."

Gunderson defined adaptive management as “an approach to managing natural resources that allows managers to ‘learn while doing.'"

“It does that by exploring plausible effects of alternative proposed policies, then designing management actions that attempt to resolve uncertainties of the proposed policies,” he said. “It’s a difference from planning our way into the future and learning our way into the future.”

Khan said Gunderson’s instruction will help him in his work using hydroclimate analytics in understanding the response and function of water basins in a changing environment.

“The short-term course has enriched my critical thinking about adaptive management in a changing environment, which will be beneficial in my research and future endeavors,” he said.

Ellerman, who is studying how the removal of invasive trees affects vegetation, also found the course beneficial.

“Professor Gunderson was exceptionally accessible throughout the course and left ample opportunity to field questions and clear gray areas,” Ellerman said. “His lectures were rich with anecdotes which made what at first felt like vague, highly abstract theory become clear. As for material, I found the course particularly helpful in understanding the interplay of science and policy with respect to uncertainty and how management can best mitigate this uncertainty."

— Ronica Stromberg, National Research Traineeship Program Coordinator 

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