Falcy, M.R. 2021. Using social values in the prioritization of research: quantitative examples and generalizations. Ecology and Evolution 11: 18000-18010. DOI: 10.1002/ece3.8394
Identifying critical uncertainties about ecological systems can help prioritize research efforts intended to inform management decisions. However, exclusively focusing on the ecological system neglects the objectives of natural resource managers and the associated social values tied to risks and rewards of actions.I demonstrate how to prioritize research efforts for a harvested population by applying expected value of perfect information (EVPI) to harvest decisions made with a density-independent matrix population model. Research priorities identified by EVPI diverge from priorities identified by matrix elasticity analyses that ignore social utility. Using a density-dependent harvest model, the value of information about the intrinsic productivity of a population is shown to be sensitive to the socially determined penalty for implementing a harvest rate that deviates from the goal because of imperfection in estimation. Synthesis and applications. The effect of including social values into harvest decision-making depends on the assumed population model, uncertainty in population vital rates, and the particular form of the utility function used to represent risk/reward of harvest. EVPI analyses that includes perceived utility of different outcomes can be used by managers seeking to optimize monitoring and research spending. Collaboration between applied ecologists and social scientists that quantitatively measure peoples' values is needed in many structured decision-making processes.