Political Science, Department of


Date of this Version



Conservation Letters 5 (2012) 289–295


Copyright 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Used by permission.


To make a difference in policy making about socio-ecological systems, ecologists must grasp when decision makers are amenable to acting on ecological expertise and when they are not. To enable them to do so we present a matrix for classifying a socio-ecological system by the extent of what we don’t know about its natural components and the social interactions that affects them. We use four examples, Midcontinent Mallards, Laysan Ducks, Pallid Sturgeon, and Rocky Mountain Grey Wolves to illustrate how the combination of natural and social source of indeterminism matters. Where social indeterminism is high, ecologists can expand the range of possible science-based options decision makers might consider even while recognizing societal-based concerns rather than science will dominate decision making. In contrast, where natural indeterminism is low, ecologists can offer reasonably accurate predictions that may well serve as inputs into decision making. Depending on the combination of natural and social indeterminism characterizing a particular circumstance, ecologists have different roles to play in informing socio-ecological system management.