Transdisciplinarity in practice: Integrating ecological, oceanographic, and human dimensions to support holistic decision-making for Oregon’s Marine Reserves

Adrian Laufer, Oregon State University, Public Policy, Corvallis, OR, United States, Megan N. Wilson, Oregon State University, Integrative Biology, Corvallis, OR, United States, Jennifer Ann Tatoi Kealohalani Wong-Ala, Oregon State University, CEOAS, Corvallis, United States and Erin Howard, Oregon State University, Statistics, Corvallis, OR, United States
Human and natural systems are inextricably linked: natural resources exist within a web of complex interactions between the resource system, resource users, and overarching governance. Considering complex marine problems as coupled natural and human (CNH) systems requires large-scale transdisciplinary integrations, which can provide the key insights necessary to find sustainable, socially-relevant solutions. The National Science Foundation’s Research Traineeship program (NRT) supports student scientists pursuing transdisciplinary research and emphasizes three core concepts: CNH systems, risk and uncertainty, and big data. This program recently partnered four graduate students at Oregon State University with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Marine Reserves Program, who manages five state marine reserves (MRs) that were established to protect habitats and species and are actively monitored via scientific research. The Oregon legislature will evaluate the MR’s efficacy in 2023, which may prompt decision-making about management strategy or MR design. Viewing the MRs within their complex CNH system and holistically exploring MR outcomes may help inform these decisions. Thus, this NRT team used a transdisciplinary approach spanning ecology, oceanography, public policy, and statistics to conduct a qualitative network analysis that incorporates multiple data types into MR evaluation. Our analysis utilized systems theory and existing literature to inform the creation of a conceptual model, which was then used to simulate system responses to future scenarios. This method incorporated multiple perspectives and explored how certain scenarios may reverberate through the MR’s CNH system. Our results suggest non-intuitive relationships, system sensitivities, and responses of natural and human variables to possible scenarios. These results are timely and useful for MR program evaluation, as they provide a process for CNH system characterization and a flexible framework for exploring responses to different management and monitoring strategies. This approach is broadly applicable for investigating human and natural consequences of marine decision-making, as a means of supporting societally-relevant and scientifically-informed MRs.