How do different multi-level governance models influence the adaptive capacity of environmental management? This paper examines the connection between different types of governance models, distinguished by diverse institutional features, and elements of adaptive capacity. The task is undertaken through a comparative study of two differently organized management systems within the same national context: Swedish water and large carnivore management. The systems' governance models are defined through an institutional analysis of polycentric features, logics of design and knowledge arrangements. Assessments of adaptive capacity are based on survey data describing the involved actors' perceptions of the knowledge base, use of an experimental approach and the presence of learning. The empirical results suggest that institutional features influence some, but not all, elements of adaptive capacity. The results lend support to the idea that polycentric governance models, based on an ecological rationale, sustain participation in knowledge mobilization, support the use of an experimental approach and promote learning to a larger extent than more centralized and hierarchical governance models do; while there is no connection between governance model and the perceived reliability of knowledge base. The study contributes to environmental governance research, policy and practice by evaluating the adaptive capacity of current water and wildlife management systems in Sweden and by increasing our knowledge about how different governance models influence the adaptive capacity in environmental management.