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Within the field of natural-resources management, the application of adaptive management is appropriate for complex problems high in uncertainty. Adaptive management is becoming an increasingly popular management-decision tool within the scientific community and has developed into two primary schools of thought: the Resilience-Experimentalist School (with high emphasis on stakeholder involvement, resilience, and highly complex models) and the Decision-Theoretic School (which results in relatively simple models through emphasizing stakeholder involvement for identifying management objectives). Because of these differences, adaptive management plans implemented under each of these schools may yield varying levels of success. We evaluated peer-reviewed literature focused on incorporation of adaptive management to identify components of successful adaptive management plans. Our evaluation included adaptive management elements such as stakeholder involvement, definitions of management objectives and actions, use and complexity of predictive models, and the sequence in which these elements were applied. We also defined a scale of degrees of success to make comparisons between the two adaptive management schools of thought. Our results include the relationship between the adaptive management process documented in the reviewed literature and our defined continuum of successful outcomes. Our data suggest an increase in the number of published articles with substantive discussion of adaptive management from 2000 to 2009 at a mean rate of annual change of 0.92 (r2 = 0.56). Additionally, our examination of data for temporal patterns related to each school resulted in an increase in acknowledgement of the Decision-Theoretic School of thought at a mean annual rate of change of 0.02 (r2 = 0.6679) and a stable acknowledgement for the Resilience-Experimentalist School of thought (r2 = 0.0042; slope = 0.0013). Identifying the elements of successful adaptive management will be advantageous to natural-resources managers considering adaptive management as a decision tool.