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Matzek encourages managers to take an active role in scientific research

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Sheridan – With the knowing-doing gap between scientists and managers continuing to grow, Virginia Matzek from Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, Calif. notes that there are steps land managers can take to improve research available.

“There are things that I think managers can do better,” she comments. “I think managers can think experimentally and embrace the idea of getting quick and dirty data.”

By doing those things better, Matzek says steps could be taken to improve research done in the field by managers. 

“Is there a natural control that can be compared? Or is a mosaic of treatments present that can be used as feedback for other managers or scientists?” she asks. “When something happens on a ranch, we can figure out quickly the validity with quick experiments about what to do next.”

Three-fold approach

Matzek notes that early practitioner Sandy deSimone wrote a paper on restoration ecology in looking at what it means for managers to be involved in science and management.

“Her technique is three-fold,” Matzek says. “She looks at scientific literature, then does the quick and dirty experimentation to get an initial sense of where to go or to delineate options. The third step is the ecological intuition using her.”

Ecological intuition, she explains, is the experience of the manager on the land and their experience managing that particular landscape, including its response to treatments. 

Setting priorities

Matzek also looks at how managers can take an active role in setting research priorities.

“In our survey, we asked how managers would set research priorities by asking, ‘What research questions would you like to have answered so you can be better at your job?’” she notes. 

The huge variety of responses gleaned from the question were sorted into a handful of categories.

“We looked at basic science and applied science as our categories, but we also had a third category that we had trouble classifying at first,” she notes. “They were the trans-disciplinary, interdisciplinary or social science problems.”

The third category looked at political and social context behind management, including mandates from agencies and the political climates.

“The questions in the third category looked at dealing with the permitting burdens,” Matzek says. “Those weren’t the kind of questions I thought of answering myself. We, as scientists, need to make friends with the social scientists across the hall to answer these questions.”

Of the responses, 25 percent were categorized as trans-disciplinary, 30 percent were basic science questions and 40 percent were applied science questions.

Basic science

Matzek explains that basic science questions included those items that may help managers to predict what will happen in the future.

“These questions included, how are native and non-native plants going to respond to change, questions about nitrogen deposition and what happens if invaders are eradicated,” she says. “These topics are great, because, as an ecologist, they are right up the alley of theoretical restoration and response to change. If we know anything about community ecology, we could answer these questions.”

Managers, she says, are looking for these answers to aid in risk assessments and predictive management.

Applied research

In the realm of applied research, Matzek notes that managers are particularly concerned about the problems of scale in space and time from research. 

“It was very high on manager’s lists to have research that was across the same scale as far as acreage and time, as far as years, that management occurs,” she comments.

She continues that a review of the top 20 journals publishing the most invasive plant research was conducted. During the review, 347 articles were read and compared against a list of criteria to determine their relevance for managers. 

“The actual mix of articles is extremely heavy on the basic science,” Matzek explains. “It shouldn’t surprise us that the research in trans-disciplinary or social science is small.”

However, the basic science presented in journals lack explicit connections to management that rangeland managers were seeking.

Species interactions – or those things that ecologists like to study – were overrepresented in journals.

Improving both sides

“Scientists can do better to recognize and state explicitly the management implications of basic research, especially when doing predictive work on community invasion and change,” she says. “Managers, however, can also communicate their research needs to scientists.”

Matzek adds, “I think we can encourage professional societies to do a research needs assessment to look at the next 20 years of basic plant research and to get stakeholders concerns into the research agenda.”

Matzek spoke during the 2013 Wyoming Society for Range Management Annual Meeting, held in Sheridan. 

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

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