Ecological Forecasting—21st Century Science for 21st Century Management

Open-File Report 2020-1073
By: , and 



Natural resource managers are coping with rapid changes in both environmental conditions and ecosystems. Enabled by recent advances in data collection and assimilation, short-term ecological forecasting may be a powerful tool to help resource managers anticipate impending near-term changes in ecosystem conditions or dynamics. Managers may use the information in forecasts to minimize the adverse effects of ecological stressors and optimize the effectiveness of management actions. To explore the potential for ecological forecasting to enhance natural resource management, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) convened a workshop titled "Building Capacity for Applied Short-Term Ecological Forecasting" on May 29—31, 2019, with participants from several Federal agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as well as all mission areas within the USGS.

Participants broadly agreed that short-term ecological forecasting—on the order of days to years into the future—has tremendous potential to improve the quality and timeliness of information available to guide resource management decisions. Participants considered how ecological forecasting could directly affect their agency missions and specified numerous critical tools for addressing natural resource management concerns in the 21st century that could be enhanced by ecological forecasting. Given this breadth of possible applications for forecast products, participants developed a repeatable framework for evaluating potential value of a forecast product for enhancing resource management. Applying that process to a large list of forecast ideas that were developed in a brainstorming session, participants identified a small set of promising forecast products that illustrate the value of ecological forecasting for informing resource management. Workshop outcomes also include insights about important likely obstacles and next steps. In particular, reliable production and delivery of operational ecological forecasts will require a sustained commitment by research agencies, in partnership with resource management agencies, to maintain and improve forecasting tools and capabilities.

Suggested Citation

Bradford, J.B., Weltzin, J.F., McCormick, M., Baron, J., Bowen, Z., Bristol, S., Carlisle, D., Crimmins, T., Cross, P., DeVivo, J., Dietze, M., Freeman, M., Goldberg, J., Hooten, M., Hsu, L., Jenni, K., Keisman, J., Kennen, J., Lee, K., Lesmes, D., Loftin, K., Miller, B.W., Murdoch, P., Newman, J., Prentice, K.L., Rangwala, I., Read, J., Sieracki, J., Sofaer, H., Thur, S., Toevs, G., Werner, F., White, C.L., White, T., and Wiltermuth, M., 2020, Ecological forecasting—21st century science for 21st century management: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2020–1073, 54 p.,

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Background and Motivation for the Workshop
  • Workshop Goals and Structure
  • Workshop Results
  • Implications for USGS Research and Operations
  • Conclusions
  • References Cited
  • Appendix 1. Workshop Agenda
  • Appendix 2. Standardized Rubric for Describing a Forecast Product
  • Appendix 3. Descriptions of the Most Promising Forecast Products Considered at the Workshop
  • Appendix 4. Brainstorming of Forecast Products Discussed
  • Appendix 5. Ratings of Specific Potential Forecast Products by Topic
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Ecological forecasting—21st century science for 21st century management
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2020-1073
DOI 10.3133/ofr20201073
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Core Science Analytics and Synthesis, Fort Collins Science Center, Kansas Water Science Center, Maryland Water Science Center, Minnesota Water Science Center, National Phenology Network, National Wildlife Health Center, New Jersey Water Science Center, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Southwest Biological Science Center, Pacific Islands Ecosys Research Center, Eastern Ecological Science Center
Description vii, 54 p.
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details