The Role of Conceptual Ecological Models in Implementing the Federal Endangered Species Act
The Role of Conceptual Ecological Models in Implementing the Federal Endangered Species Act

This week, I published a post on the Center for California Water Resources Policy and Management’s DeltaCurrents blog discussing the role of conceptual ecological models in implementing the federal Endangered Species Act. Conceptual ecological models are a specialized subset of conceptual models generally intended to describe the environmental factors that affect an ecological community, a species, or a population. Conceptual ecological models are useful in a variety of contexts ranging from development of research proposals and monitoring schemes, to regulatory decision-making applied in the development of biological opinions and habitat conservation plans. In the implementation of the federal Endangered Species Act, and its California counterpart, wildlife agencies should make greater use of conceptual ecological models and adhere to best practices for their use.

Conceptual ecological models are valuable because they describe the drivers and stressors that affect a species and its habitat, they facilitate hypothesis testing to improve the understanding of ecological relationships, and they assist with the development of monitoring regimes and interpretation of monitoring results, ideally, in an adaptive management framework. That said, the substantive provisions of the Endangered Species Act, regulations that implement those provisions, and agency guidance regarding those provisions, are silent on the use of conceptual models in regulatory decision-making, and therefore out of step with prevailing scientific practices. While there is a robust literature that has developed over the past quarter century describing best practices in the development of conceptual models generally and conceptual ecological models specifically, too often conceptual ecological models do not reflect best practices.

For further background and analysis of the current situation and future use of conceptual ecological models, please see my full post here. To learn more about the mission of the Center for California Water Resources Management and Policy, click here.

  • Paul S. Weiland

    Paul Weiland is Assistant Managing Partner and a member of the Environment & Land Use Group. He has represented clients – including public agencies, publicly regulated utilities, corporations, trade associations and ...

Nossaman’s Endangered Species Law & Policy blog focuses on news, events, and policies affecting endangered species issues in California and throughout the United States. Topics include listing and critical habitat decisions, conservation and recovery planning, inter-agency consultation, and related developments in law, policy, and science. We also inform readers about regulatory and legislative developments, as well as key court decisions.

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