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An expert elicitation process to project the frequency and magnitude of Florida manatee mortality events caused by red tide (Karenia brevis)

Open-File Report 2017-1132

Prepared in cooperation with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
By:
ORCID iD , ORCID iD , , , and
https://doi.org/10.3133/ofr20171132

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Abstract

Red tides (blooms of the harmful alga Karenia brevis) are one of the major sources of mortality for the Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris), especially in southwest Florida. It has been hypothesized that the frequency and severity of red tides may increase in the future because of global climate change and other factors. To improve our ecological forecast for the effects of red tides on manatee population dynamics and long-term persistence, we conducted a formal expert judgment process to estimate probability distributions for the frequency and relative magnitude of red-tide-related manatee mortality (RTMM) events over a 100-year time horizon in three of the four regions recognized as manatee management units in Florida. This information was used to update a population viability analysis for the Florida manatee (the Core Biological Model). We convened a panel of 12 experts in manatee biology or red-tide ecology; the panel met to frame, conduct, and discuss the elicitation. Each expert provided a best estimate and plausible low and high values (bounding a confidence level of 80 percent) for each parameter in each of three regions (Northwest, Southwest, and Atlantic) of the subspecies’ range (excluding the Upper St. Johns River region) for two time periods (0−40 and 41−100 years from present). We fitted probability distributions for each parameter, time period, and expert by using these three elicited values. We aggregated the parameter estimates elicited from individual experts and fitted a parametric distribution to the aggregated results.

Across regions, the experts expected the future frequency of RTMM events to be higher than historical levels, which is consistent with the hypothesis that global climate change (among other factors) may increase the frequency of red-tide blooms. The experts articulated considerable uncertainty, however, about the future frequency of RTMM events. The historical frequency of moderate and intense RTMM (combined) in the Southwest region was 0.35 (80-percent confidence interval [CI]: 0.21−0.52), whereas the forecast probability was 0.48 (80-percent CI: 0.30−0.64) over a 40-year projected time horizon. Moderate and intense RTMM events are expected to continue to be most frequent in the Southwest region, to increase in mean frequency in the Northwest region (historical frequency of moderate and intense RTMM events [combined] in the Northwest region was 0, whereas the forecast probability was 0.12 [80-percent CI: 0.02−0.39] over a 40-year projected time horizon) and in the Atlantic region (historical frequency of moderate and intense RTMM events [combined] in the Atlantic region was 0.05 [80-percent CI: 0.005–0.18], whereas the forecast probability was 0.11 [80-percent CI: 0.03−0.25] over a 40-year projected time horizon), and to remain absent from the Upper St. Johns River region.

The impact of red-tide blooms on manatee mortality has been measured for the Southwest region but not for the Northwest and Atlantic regions, where such events have been rare. The expert panel predicted that the median magnitude of RTMM events in the Atlantic and Northwest regions will be much smaller than that in the Southwest; given the large uncertainties, however, they acknowledged the possibility that these events could be larger in their mortality impacts than in the Southwest region.

By its nature, forecasting requires expert judgment because it is impossible to have empirical evidence about the future. The large uncertainties in parameter estimates over a 100-year timeframe are to be expected and may also indicate that the training provided to panelists successfully minimized one common pitfall of expert judgment, that of overconfidence. This study has provided useful and needed inputs to the Florida manatee population viability analysis associated with an important and recurrent source of mortality from harmful algal blooms.

Suggested Citation

Martin, Julien, Runge, M.C., Flewelling, L.J., Deutsch, C.J., and Landsberg, J.H., 2017, An expert elicitation process to project the frequency and magnitude of Florida manatee mortality events caused by red tide (Karenia brevis): U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2017–1132, 17 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/ofr20171132.

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • References

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Report
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Title:
An expert elicitation process to project the frequency and magnitude of Florida manatee mortality events caused by red tide (Karenia brevis)
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
2017-1132
DOI:
10.3133/ofr20171132
Year Published:
2017
Language:
English
Publisher:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Wetland and Aquatic Research Center
Description:
Report: vi, 17 p.; Data Release