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Matzek looks at gaps between science and management of rangelands

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Sheridan – For many rangeland managers, the information they seek to improve their management is unavailable or unclear, and Virginia Matzek from Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, Calif. is working to address that problem.

“When I was in grad school, I would go to cocktail parties, and people would feign interest in my research. They’d always ask, ‘What is that information good for?’” says Matzek. “I realized I had no idea what managers did or what kinds of research they wanted.”

As a result, she has become involved with the California Invasive Plant Council, an organization that seeks to bring managers and researchers together, to rethink her research and determine how it could be more useful.

“There is a knowing-doing gap or a research-implementation gap,” says Matzek. “We have information that accumulates about the science of ecology and management, but it is not being incorporated into management actions.”

Research project

Currently, Matzek is involved in a research project to attempt to address those concerns.

“The first part of what I looked at is what managers want. We did a survey in California asking producers what kind of research was needed,” she says. “Part two was to find out if what managers got was matching up with what they need or if there is a disjoint between what scientists are producing and what managers like to read.”

Matzek continues that both managers and scientists can each do more to improve the gap. 

“Is it the managers fault? Are scientists doing good work while managers are stuck in their groove?” she asks. “Or are ivory tower academic researchers out of touch with what we do on the ground? Is research inadequate?”
She continues that she has worked to explain the knowing-doing gap and improve interaction between rangeland management and research.

Explaining the gap

Matzek noted that there are several factors that may influence the knowing-doing gap.

“First, applied research doesn’t have the same status in academia as basic research and theory development,” she comments. “Secondly, there is a lack of stakeholder involvement in research agendas.”

Lack of access to available information is also a concern, says Matzek, noting that managers may not be near universities with research libraries or they can’t get ahold of information. 

“Next is the lack of interdisciplinary work,” Matzek explains. “Scientists are unable to draw connections or think more broadly and work with other disciplines to make more solutions.”

An additional concern is that managers aren’t able to understand or put into practice the complex scientific information presented in journals.

“Another concern is the mismatch of scale,” she says. “Management often happens at the 1,000 hectare level, and research happens at the meter-squared level. There is a definite mismatch there.”

Manager level

The first aspect of Matzek’s research looked at what managers are looking for.

“We used the California Invasive Plant Council to put together a list of organizations that had power over land management decision making,” says Matzek, noting that a list of 403 organizations was compiled. “We also looked at the 200 high-impact invaders that affect California.”

The project asked land managers if they believe that a knowing-doing gap is present, if research is targeting their needs and if the research is available.


“Less than 25 percent  of managers thought their priorities were well represented by research agencies,” says Matzek. 

At the same time, she notes that peer-reviewed journals are the last place that managers noted they looked to gain new management information.

“At the top of the list are informal interactions with other managers and relying on their own judgment in dealing with the landscape,” she says. “Tied after that is use of formal scientific research distilled by talks at symposia or in newsletters, books or websites that make science more palatable.”

Peer reviewed journal articles are consulted last. 

While 60 percent of managers admitted they never consult journals, only half of the remaining 40 percent said they were able to find relevant information in the top 20 journals detailing invasive species management.

“We also asked those who said they never consulted journals why, and the top answer was that they didn’t have time,” Matzek continues. “More than half also said they didn’t have library access.”

Relevance of the information was a factor, but a lack of expertise rarely appeared as a reason for not consulting information.

Making improvements

Matzek highlights improvements that scientists can make in order to improve the knowing-doing gap.

“One thing scientists can do is to publish in open access journals,” she notes. “Often, authors would have to pay a fee to put their articles in open access journals, but anyone with an internet connection can read the paper, then.”

She adds that interfacing with managers to generate more relevant information that managers will use is important.

“The vast majority of managers use experiments and monitoring to inform themselves about management actions,” Matzek says. “Lack of expertise is not the problem with research being utilized in the field.”

Matzek spoke during the 2013 Wyoming Society for Range Management Annual Meeting, held in Sheridan. Look for more information from her presentation in upcoming editions of the Roundup. 

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

From California to Wyoming

While her research isn’t specific to Wyoming, Santa Clara University’s Virginia Matzek notes that the ideas can be extrapolated to rangeland managers across the West. Because of the size of the state, the diversity of both habitats and species and the large number of invaders, Matzek says the state provides an ideal opportunity for research.

“Also, a lot of California – 42 percent – is in public ownership,” Matzek adds. “We also have a network for information distribution and research with weed management areas.”


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