Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder

Matthew Burgess

Research Interests

I am an Assistant Professor in Environmental Studies, with a courtesy appointment in Economics. My research focuses on natural resource management, endangered species conservation, and issues in global sustainability. I use a combination of mathematical and computer modeling, data synthesis, and collaboration with stakeholders, in order to make conceptual advances and link them to practice.

Current Research

My current research focuses on three broad questions:

(1) How can we best manage complex natural resource systems with limited data and governance capacity?

Natural resource management is caught between conflicting pulls toward complexity and simplicity. On one hand, natural resource systems are becoming increasingly understood as complex multi-scale human-environment systems. On the other hand, the complexity of natural resource management is in practice heavily constrained by the limits of available data, and capacity for monitoring, administration, and enforcement. Thus, a key challenge for natural resource science is to find management approaches that are robust to complexity—including complexity that is not fully understood by the manager—and that are also feasible with commonly available data types and governance capacities.

(2) How can we quantify the bioeconomic conditions that cause species endangerment, in order to facilitate preventative conservation and better understand tradeoffs with other objectives?

Current approaches to assessing species endangerment predominantly quantify symptoms of endangerment such as population declines, high current mortality rates, or species rarity. I am interested in developing approaches to measuring the bioeconomic conditions causing species endangerment, for two reasons. First, such mechanistic measures can identify threats of future extinction and severe population decline before the declines occur. Second, mechanistic measures can be used to quantify tradeoffs and synergies between species conservation and other social and ecological objectives. The nature of these tradeoffs is sometimes counterintuitive.

(3) What do sustainable global and regional economies look like, and what institutions are needed to support them?

There are ongoing debates about how large and fast-growing economies can be and still be environmentally sustainable. The answer to this question in part depends on how efficiently food, water, and energy resources can be provided, and how fast technology can improve. Another important aspect to this question is what types of social, political, and economic institutions can be designed and implemented to facilitate the most efficient provisioning of these resources. Moreover, to the extent that the need for sustainability restricts the size and growth rates of future economies, it is important to anticipate what social and political problems might arise from this, and what institutions are needed to solve these problems. I am interested in each of these three aspects of the larger problem.

See my personal website for more information on research and opportunities in the group.

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