Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Major Professor

Paul R. Armsworth

Committee Members

Monica Papes, Orou Gaoue, Charles Sims


As effects from climate change accelerate, there is a pressing need for research that can improve people’s lives and safeguard the environment. Billions of dollars are invested annually in such projects. To invest that money wisely, we need to understand the effects of assumptions that underpin decisions but often go unstated, such as assumptions about discount rates and time horizons. We also need to understand how project design choices affect the management of natural resources, prioritization of conservation actions, and success of climate adaptation projects. My dissertation explores these topics. I ask if and how local natural resource users and practitioners discount the future in environmental decision-making. I also look at the effects of time horizon on the choice of conservation strategies. I explore how characteristics of climate adaptation projects influence the success of such research.

I find that both natural resource users and practitioners discount financial and ecological goods. Natural resource users discount goods at much higher rates than often discussed in literature and I illustrate how such estimates of discount rates change recommendations regarding optimal management of a renewable resource. I also depict how the variation in discount rates of conservation practitioners and choice of time horizons changes conservation priorities that would be recommended across the coterminous USA and within the southern Appalachian Mountains. Results from my final chapter suggest that the steps needed for projects like these to be impactful in science are distinct from those needed to be useful to stakeholders. Specifically, I find that increased meeting frequency with stakeholders increases use of research by partners. By using systematic evaluation to assess the effectiveness of past projects, we can start to identify shared characteristics that make funded research more likely to provide accessible and usable information to natural resource managers.

As the global conservation community envisions goals for the future, they need to assess how they weigh decisions through time, enable open dialogue amongst its members, and engage natural resource users to develop locally grounded and sustainable conservation strategies.

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