Natural resource managers use a variety of computer-mediated presentation methods to communicate with the public about ecosystem dynamics and management practices. This study explored the usefulness of computer-generated visualizations and animations for presenting model results to the public on forest succession, fire behavior, and land management options. The study used the FFE-FVS model, available at http://www.fs.fed.us/fmsc/fvs/index.shtml. The study’s objectives were to determine if visualized, animated computerized graphics in a presentation
1. increase understanding of forest growth and change, fire behavior, and mathematical model results in three adult populations—rural mountain residents, town residents, and college students.
2. alter perceptions of the land management agency and/or the role of models in the agency's decision making process in three adult populations.
RESULTS: Participants found the animated presentation more visually appealing and easier to follow than the non-animated presentation. Both animated and non-animated presentations increased participants’ knowledge for all three populations. For rural mountain residents, the animated presentation was associated with significantly greater knowledge gain than the non-animated presentation. This group was generally older than and had less biology background than the town resident and student groups. For town residents and college students, both kinds of presentations showed similar knowledge gain.
Participants reported that the presentations (whether animated or not) and the model described in them added to credibility of the land management agency (USDA Forest Service). Even rural mountain residents, who tended to rate the agency as less helpful than city residents and students, followed this pattern.
CONCLUSION: Carefully planned and developed presentations, whether using computer animation or not, can help land managers communicate complex ecological and management information to the public. The use of visualization and animation can increase the appeal of a technical, information-packed presentation, though it may not increase actual knowledge gain or influence attitudes toward the agency.