1. Adaptive management (AM) was proposed as a rigourous and structured approach to natural resource management that increases learning and reduces uncertainty. It has been adopted as a guiding principle by agencies world-wide, yet its usefulness for guiding management continues to be debated. We propose a new strategy, which we term staged-scale restoration (SSR), to implement AM in a restoration setting while enhancing the scientific rigour, ecological effectiveness and overall efficiency of restoration efforts compared to traditional applications of AM.
2. The SSR approach includes three aspects: (1) experimentally assessing alternative restoration techniques directly on-site in replicated plots using operational-scale equipment, (2) staging, or the successive establishment and evaluation of treated areas over time and (3) scaling, whereby the most successful techniques identified during earlier stages are applied to increasingly larger areas in later stages. A case study illustrates how SSR was used to improve prairie restoration in western Washington, USA.
3. Staged-scale restoration provides several key advantages. It includes a robust experimental design and thus improves the scientific rigour of AM. It is conducted on-site using operational-scale equipment and thus increases the effectiveness of treatments while also providing a platform for refining existing treatments. SSR facilitates collaboration among researchers and managers. By promoting advanced planning and deferring much of the area to be treated to the latter years of a project, SSR reduces the risk of restoration failure. It can be implemented at multiple sites or years, the number and types of treatments to be assessed can be customized and the pace of restoration can be varied.
4. Synthesis and applications. Staged-scale restoration addresses many of the criticisms that have been directed at conventional adaptive management (AM) and provides a scientifically rigourous strategy.