Daniel Goodman Memorial Symposium on Risk Analysis & Uncertainty in Ecology - a PeerJ Collection


In March 2014, the Daniel Goodman Memorial Symposium was held to honor the work of the late Dr. Daniel Goodman and to discuss environmental science and ecological management under the theme, “Decision-Making under Uncertainty: Risk Assessment and the Best Available Science.” While it is often not explicitly acknowledged, the conservation and management of species and ecosystems almost always involves making decisions in the face of significant uncertainty. Dr. Goodman, a professor of biology and ecology at Montana State University, spent a great deal of his career focused on how best to incorporate that uncertainty into ecological analyses to better inform ecological decision-making. To do this, he advocated for the use of Bayesian statistics in conjunction with formal risk analysis and structured decision-making. He argued that such an approach would increase the transparency of decisions for stakeholders and increase the effectiveness of ecological management decisions.

Some sectors of environmental management, such as environmental contamination and remediation, routinely make decisions using risk-management methods. Ecological management, or management of species and ecosystems, however, is rarely approached from a risk-based perspective. As a result, Goodman’s work was relatively unique and had a substantial influence on how scientists within the agencies with which he worked (e.g., the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Marine Mammal Commission, and US Fish and Wildlife Service) think about decision-making, uncertainty, and risk. The aim of the symposium was to highlight Dr. Goodman’s contributions and to introduce more ecologists to this risk-based perspective.

The papers in this collection derive from the symposium and cover a diverse array of topics, reflective of the diversity of Dr. Goodman’s work. Collectively, they outline how uncertainty should be recognized and quantified in each phase of the ecological decision-making process: data collection, analysis, policy formulation, and decision-making. Together, the papers provide a framework for thinking about this process as a whole, rather than as separate endeavors, and outline best practices for linking the phases and approaching them from a risk-based perspective. In addition to the focus on uncertainty and risk, two common themes run throughout the papers: the necessity of distinguishing between policy questions and scientific questions, and the importance of communication between scientists, policy-makers, and decision-makers.

Dr. Goodman had been described by many colleagues as an extremely clear and brilliant thinker, one with a passion for improving ecological decisions and making the science of conservation biology more effective. This collection of papers provides a picture (though decidedly incomplete) of his work and ideas; it is a way to honor him, but more importantly, it is a way to disseminate his ideas to a broader audience. In so doing, we hope to improve the process of ecological management and decision-making.

The papers in this collection are only a subset of the talks presented at the symposium. Video recordings of the full symposium proceedings can be accessed on the Montana State University YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLt1pNhbuElU-z_BFdY4ZfBOryWzkOjWk0 ) and include additional excellent talks by many distinguished scientists.

The symposium steering committee was composed of the following individuals:

- Gina Himes Boor Chair, Assistant Research Professor, Department of Ecology, Montana State University

- Tim Ragen Retired Executive Director, U.S. Marine Mammal Commission

- Tomo Eguchi Ecologist, Protected Resources Division, NOAA Fisheries

- Tom Royer Former Chair, North Pacific Research Board Science Panel

- Diane Brawner Retired/Adjunct Professor, Microbiology and WWAMI, Montana State University

- Bert Harting Ecologist/Population Modeler, NOAA Fisheries Contractor

- Dave Roberts Department Chair, Department of Ecology, Montana State University

- Peter Jutro Associate Administrator for Homeland Security (Acting), National Homeland Security Research Center, Environmental Protection Agency

- Jim Berkson Unit Leader and Associate Professor, NOAA Fisheries RTR Unit, University of Florida

- Nick Gayeski Aquatic Ecologist, Wild Fish Conservancy

- Gary Lopez Executive Director, Monterey Institute for Technology & Education

- Steven Swartz Co-director, Laguna San Ignacio Ecosystem Science Program

The organizers would like to thank the following donors who made the symposium possible:


- Debbie Erdman and Andreas Luder

- Kathy Hansen Crawford and Tim Crawford

- Steve and Robin Hamilton

- Montana State University

- Ecology Department

- College of Letters & Science

- Office of the Provost

- Mathematical Sciences Colloquium Series (supported by Math Department, College of L&S, & Vice President for Research)


- U.S. Marine Mammal Commission

- North Pacific Research Board

- Northwest Power and Conservation Council

- Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

Also available to other groups