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Decision thresholds for management actions. A NERP workshop



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Connecting conservation policy
makers, researchers and practitioners
Is that a fox I spy? Of risk,
eradication and when to
declare success
The IUCN Red List turns 50A call to better protect
Antarctic biodiversity
Decision Point
Decision Point is the monthly magazine of the
Environmental Decisions Group (EDG). It presents news
and views on environmental decision making, biodiversity,
conservation planning and monitoring. See the back cover
for more info on the EDG. Decision Point is available free
Newts invade Melbourne
Koala conservation depends on social values
Saving large old trees
‘Running’ the EDG
Issue #81 / August 2014
Between a rock
and a hard place
Disappearing tidal ats
and the plight of the
migratory shorebird
Issue #81 / August 2014
Page 2 Decision Point #81 - August 2014
Decision Point is the monthly magazine of the Environmental
Decision Group (EDG). The EDG is a network of conservation
researchers working on the science of eective decision making
to better conserve biodiversity. Our members are largely
based at the University of Queensland, the Australian National
University, the University of Melbourne, the University of
Western Australia, RMIT and CSIRO.
Decision Point is available free from:
On the point
The constructive alternative
Sometimes the enormity of whats happening to our irreplaceable
biodiversity is overwhelming.
Up front on page 3 are stories on declines in monarch butteries,
disappearing old trees and the appearance of newts in Melbourne
(which will likely lead to declines in many forms of aquatic life). On
page 5 we discuss foxes in Tasmania (just imagine the consequences
of that!) while the story on page 8 examines the industrial scale
transformation of tidal ats in Asia. On page 10 the story is on the
loss of koalas in SE Queensland while the story on page 13 discusses
the inadequacy of the protected area network in Antarctica.
To bookend this litany of woe we note on page 16 that the
authoritative IUCN Red List has just turned 50 – Happy Birthday Red
List! It has now assessed the habitat needs of around 74,000 species
and found 22,000 are threatened with extinction.
Yes, there are more dark clouds than silver linings. But rather than
curl up into a foetal position (a very tempting response) the EDG’s
eorts are aimed at focusing on whats possible, not on what’s not.
If we want to make a real dierence on the viability of monarch
butteries, where do we focus our attention? If we want to draw
attention to the plight of Asia’s tidal ats, how can they be quickly
and eectively mapped? If we want an eective reserve network in
Antarctica, what’s a systematic framework to create it? If managers
on Phillip Island want high levels of condence that their fox
eradication program has worked, how long do they need to continue
to monitor for the presence of foxes?
EDG research has been providing workable solutions to all these
issues and much more besides. As one example, our involvement in
the Phillip Island fox program (see p6) provided managers with the
condence in what they were doing to secure funding to monitor for
foxes for three years following the end of the eradication eort.
It’s easy to get depressed when it comes to biodiversity conservation.
The trick is to not let despair disable our capacity to constructively
David Salt
Editor, Decision Point
Research briefs 3
I spy a newt
The vital bits of a monarchs migration
New policies for old trees
‘Running’ the EDG 4
Perspectives on the organisation of our science
Eradicating foxes 5
Absence of proof isn’t proof of absence.
The tale of the Phillip Island fox 6
A managers view on costs, and the condence of eradication.
The tragedy of disappearing tidal flats 8
Nick Murray maps wetlands on Earth’s most developed coastline.
Conserving koalas in suburbs 10
Nicole Shumway on the mismatch between attitudes and actions.
The Project Prioritisation Protocol 12
A tool for allocating funds to threatened species management.
A call to protect Antarctic biodiversity 14
The current protected area network is inadequate.
Tidal ats are made of mud, sand and silt. They
are invisible for much of the tidal cycle but they
are critical habitat for many migratory shorebirds.
They are also being lost to coastal development
all around the world. EDG research is helping us
understand the magnitude of the problem. See our
story on page 8. (Photo by Nick Murray)
Research Briefs
Decision Point #81 - August 2014 Page 3
The vital bits of a monarch’s migration
Conserving migratory animals has always been a challenge because
they face a range of threats at dierent parts of their migration,
often separated by vast geographical distances (consider the
threat to migratory birds from the loss of tidal ats in Asia, see p8).
Addressing threats to population viability of migratory animals
therefore requires integrating information of how individuals move,
survive and reproduce throughout their annual cycle.
Populations of the iconic monarch buttery (Danaus plexippus)
of eastern North America have declined over the last 21 years.
Three hypotheses have been posed to explain this decline: habitat
loss on the overwintering grounds in Mexico, habitat loss on the
breeding grounds in the United States and Canada, and extreme
weather events. Scientists in Canada and Australia, including
EDG researchers, have recently reported on their analysis of the
migration of this buttery. They assessed its population viability,
and determined which life stage, season and geographical region
are contributing the most to the decline of the species.
They developed a spatially structured, stochastic and density-
dependent periodic projection matrix model that integrates
patterns of migratory connectivity and demographic vital rates
across the butterys annual cycle. What they found was that
monarch abundance was more than four times more sensitive to
perturbations of vital rates on the breeding grounds (in the US) than
on the wintering grounds (in Mexico).
Recent population declines of the buttery stem from a reduction
in milkweed host plants in the United States (which is connected to
an increasing adoption of genetically modied crops and land-use
change), not from climate change or degradation of forest habitats
in Mexico. Therefore, reducing the negative eects from the loss of
host plants on the breeding grounds is the top conservation priority
to slow or halt future population declines of monarch butteries in
North America.
Flockhart DTT, JB Pichancourt, DR Norris & TG Martin (2014).
Unravelling the annual cycle in a migratory animal: breeding-
season habitat loss drives population declines of monarch
butteries. Journal of Animal Ecology.
doi: 10.1111/1365-2656.12253
I spy a newt
Australia has around 230 species of frog but no native salamanders
(newts), though salamanders have been available as pets for many
years. Well, now it seems pet salamanders have broken out with
the discovery of many specimens of the European or smooth newt
(Lissotriton vulgaris) living wild in the outer suburbs of Melbourne.
And that could have dire consequences for Australias aquatic
biodiversity. The introduction and its potential consequences are
discussed in a new study published in Biological Invasions.
“Some of the sites where we have detected newts are quite far
apart, so we suspect that the species has spread considerably, and
has established itself in more areas than our study has revealed,
says EDG researcher Dr Reid Tingley, the lead author on the paper.
The smooth newt was available in the pet trade for decades before
the Victorian government declared it a controlled pest animal’ in
1997. This invasion therefore likely originated from the release or
escape of captive animals.
Tingley says as this is the rst newt species found in the wild in
Australia, the researchers cannot yet say how widely the species will
spread or what sort of impact it will have on native wildlife.
“However, based on where they live in Europe, we suspect theyre
capable of persisting and reproducing in many areas of southern
Australia, says Tingley. “In Europe, smooth newts live in woodlands,
meadows, and a range of disturbed habitats, and so they can easily
adapt to many dierent types of environments.
The smooth newt preys on invertebrates, crustaceans, and the
eggs and hatchlings of frogs and sh. Closely related species to
the smooth newt also carry chytrid fungus – a pathogen that has
caused widespread decline in Australian frogs.
Tingley points out that the next step is to nd out how far the newts
have spread. “This is crucial as it’ll determine what we should do –
we may be able to eradicate them if theyre in small numbers, but if
they’ve spread quite far, we may have to focus on limiting them to
their current extent. It’s cheaper and more eective to act quickly,
rather than waiting to see what their impact will be.
More info: Reid Tingley
Tingley R, AR Weeks, AS Smart, AR van Rooyen, AP Woolnough &
MA McCarthy (2014). European newts establish in Australia,
marking the arrival of a new amphibian order. Biological
Short accounts of papers from EDG researchers. If you would like copies
of any of these papers see:
New policies for old trees
Large old trees are critical organisms and ecological structures
in forests, woodlands, savannas, and agricultural and urban
environments. They play many essential ecological roles ranging
from the storage of large amounts of carbon to the provision of
key habitats for wildlife. Some of these roles cannot be replaced by
other structures.
Large old trees are disproportionately vulnerable to loss in many
ecosystems worldwide as a result of accelerated rates of mortality,
impaired recruitment, or both. Drivers of loss, such as the combined
impacts of re and browsing by domestic or native herbivores,
chemical spray drift in agricultural environments, and post-
disturbance salvage logging, are often unique to large old trees but
also represent ecosystem-specic threats.
David Lindenmayer and colleagues argue in a new paper in
Conservation Letters that new policies and practices are urgently
needed to conserve existing large old trees and restore ecologically
eective and viable populations of such trees by managing trees
and forests on much longer time scales than is currently practiced.
They also recommend we need to do more to protect places where
old trees are most likely to develop. Without these steps, large old
trees will vanish from many ecosystems, and associated biota and
ecosystem functions will be severely diminished or lost.
Lindenmayer DB, WF Laurance, JF Franklin, GE Likens, SC Banks, W
Blanchard, P Gibbons, K Ikin, D Blair, L McBurney, AD Manning
& JAR Stein (2014). New Policies for Old Trees: Averting a Global
Crisis in a Keystone Ecological Structure.
Conservation Letters, 7: 61–69.
A smooth newt (Photo Museum Victoria)
Page 4 Decision Point #81 - August 2014
Technology companies have a reputation for innovation in the
design of their working environments. Google, for example, is famed
for outtting its headquarters with coee shops, slides, masseuses,
funky couches, and for the 20% time policy (employees are
encouraged to take one day a week to work on anything they want).
The games company Valve takes this a step further by allowing their
employees to be eectively autonomous (Valve 2012). Each person
joins whatever project they want to join and can initiate any project
of their own (the theory is that good ideas attract other people and
are more likely to succeed, bad ideas die from neglect).
These new approaches to (un)structuring the work environment are
a reection of two themes that have emerged from social science
research (Pink, 2009). Firstly, traditional work environments and
nancial incentives are eective for repetitive, mechanical tasks, but
when tasks require creativity or innovation then these strategies
actually reduce performance. Secondly, a recognition of the fact that
autonomy is one of the most important factors
driving employee satisfaction. Management is
great if you want compliance (eg, the military), but
self-direction promotes engagement, productivity
and satisfaction.
As Valve says in its Handbook for New Employees,
if you go out of your way “to recruit the most
intelligent, innovative, talented people on Earth,
telling them to sit at a desk and do what they’re
told obliterates 99 percent of their value. We
want innovators, and that means maintaining an
environment where they’ll ourish.
In many ways our research network (the
Environmental Decisions Group) has adopted
a similar management paradigm. As recent
post-docs at the Brisbane node, we have often
commented on Hughs enlightened’ view to supervision. When we
arrived we were encouraged to talk to people in the group to identify
potential collaborators and projects in which we could become
involved, and then we were left to self-organise and self-direct. We
could start our own projects, many of which could even receive
funding to support them. We could forge new collaborations, join
other working groups, or work on our own thing.
We feel that this freedom encourages people to:
(i) think about what the group is ultimately trying to achieve and
how we can best contribute to that program in innovative ways;
(ii) naturally assume more responsibility for the day-to-day
operations of the group (organising workshops, seminars and
meetings, helping students, sharing useful information, etc);
(iii) be motivated, productive and more self-reliant;
(iv) begin to develop our own research themes or programmes on
our path to becoming fully independent/self-directed researchers;
(v) gain professional condence and self-knowledge (strengths and
weaknesses), which contributes to our personal growth;
(vi) build eective collaborative networks both within and outside
of the UQ group and the EDG.
That all sounds great but, of course, it isn’t all rainbows and unicorns.
Some people don’t do so well in such a free environment and
prefer to have more direction and feedback. Performance is largely
based on self-assessment, which means it can be hard to know if
you are doing well. Everyone needs constructive feedback on their
performance in order to improve. Valve use peer reviews to provide
people with information for them to accelerate and improve – a
useful technique that could be adopted here in the EDG. Valve
comments that “Its natural in this kind of environment to constantly
feel like you’re failing because for every one task you decide to
work on, there will be dozens that aren’t getting your attention.
Trust us, this is normal. Nobody expects you to devote time to every
opportunity that comes your way. Instead, we want you to learn
how to choose the most important work to do.
It is also very dicult to keep up with what
everyone is working on and this means that there
is sometimes considerable overlap in projects,
although this is an issue related as much to group
size as structure. There is a trade-o between
academic freedom and coordinated eort –
nding the right balance is not easy. Perhaps it is
also true that too much independence in a group
means that a wide variety of projects are done at
the expense of making deeper inroads into one
particular problem area. This is not necessarily a
bad thing.
We also recognise that there is a great deal of
(largely self-imposed) pressure to be productive in
academia and this often leads to a culture of long
hours. This is ultimately counter-productive and
we think Valves perspective on this is something we should regularly
repeat to early-career academics: While people occasionally choose
to push themselves to work some extra hours at times when
something big is going out the door, for the most part working
overtime for extended periods indicates a fundamental failure in
planning or communication.
Ultimately our sense is that this organisational paradigm works best
if there is a clear high-level vision that is continually reinforced by
the lead investigators. The EDG has been partially successful in this
regard (Hugh gives occasional talks that are very eective), and the
organisational themes do provide some structure to the output of
the group. These could perhaps also be used as a framework for
more regular feedback or reporting from each theme leader in order
to reinforce group cohesion and vision.
Overall, we think this is the single best working environment of
which we have ever been a part, and think most people are very
happy here (apart from the ones that have never experienced
anything else and so don’t know how lucky they are!). And the
proof is in the pudding: the EDG has performed exceptionally well,
as quantied by reportables such as papers, presentations and
working groups.
More info: Hawthorne Beyer
Pink D (2009). The puzzle of motivation. TED Talk
Valve: Handbook for new employees (2012).
‘Running’ the EDG
Herding cats and other perspectives on the organisation of our science
By Hawthorne Beyer, Nathalie Butt & Anna Renwick (University of Queensland)
Overall, we think this is the single best
working environment of which we have
ever been a part.
Decision Point #81 - August 2014 Page 5
After a couple of years with no physical trace of foxes, the Tasmanian
Government has decided to wind back its fox eradication program.
Focus will shift from poison baiting and monitoring across core fox
habitat to follow-up monitoring of the fox sightings that continue to
be reported by the public. Opinions dier on whether this decision
is conservative, sensible or unnecessarily risky. Clearly the stakes
are high and this story is a potent reminder of the risks involved in
declaring success in any program of eradication. How should the risks
surrounding the declaration of success be weighed up?
Invasive species, particularly predators such as foxes, are a major
threat to Australias biodiversity. Complete eradication of these
species is desirable but eradication is an extremely challenging thing
to accomplish. And demonstrating its been achieved can be just as
dicult because individual plants and animals cannot always be
detected in the wild.
When individuals are no longer detected, management eorts
are reduced. Condence in the absence of a species will increase
with every search that comes up empty, but complete certainty
is impossible when a species is detected imperfectly. The costs of
mistakenly assuming success can be high. The species can bounce
back and render the eradication attempt pointless; wasting months,
years, or even decades of management eort (and the precious and
limited resources that went into it). The species can even escape
the area to which it’s previously been conned, threatening new
ecosystems and industries.
Premature eradication
Many eradication programs fail. Some never come close to success,
and were possibly misguided from the outset. In some cases, however,
the failure was brought about because of winding up the program
prematurely. Take for example the attempt to eradicate Asian musk
shrews from the Mauritian island of Ile aux Aigrettes (see Decision Point
#25). Beginning in July 1999, the animals were trapped continually for
49 days. Then, after only eight days with no captures, the program was
scaled back. This was later recognised as premature. Following the
decision, the number of animals captured increased again until the
program was abandoned in February 2000.
A later study estimated that the probability of successful eradication
after those 8 days without detection was only 27%! Of course, in
this case the horse (shrew) had already bolted so the value in such a
retrospective analysis only lies in our capacity to learn from it.
On the other end of the spectrum is the Australian campaign to
eradicate bitterweed. If ingested by stock, bitterweed is toxic and leads
to production of bitter undrinkable milk. Bitterweed was discovered at
an isolated site in Queensland in 1953 and an eradication program was
launched. In 1992, after four years and nine surveys with no detections,
the weed was declared eradicated and regular surveys stopped. Many
years later, March 2007 to be precise, a small infestation of bitterweed
was discovered at the site of original occupancy. Control activities
were re-instigated, and the site is still being monitored.
Eradicating foxes
Understanding that absence of proof isn’t proof of absence
By Tracy Rout and Michael McCarthy (University of Melbourne)
These examples illustrate how dierences in the characteristics of a
species – whether it’s a plant or an animal, how quickly and often it
reproduces, and how dicult it is to nd – will aect the amount of
time and eort that’s needed before we can be suciently condent it
has been successfully eradicated. Of course, ‘suciently condent’ is a
relative term. What does it actually mean?
Given the costs of continued monitoring and management, and
the economic and environmental costs of stopping an eradication
program prematurely, how condent do we need to be before winding
back an eradication program? One simple approach to dening this
was framed by Regan et al., 2006, who suggested we stop looking
when the expected costs outweigh the expected benets.
Balancing risk on Phillip Island
If there are huge negative consequences to declaring eradication
prematurely, it would be sensible to set the threshold level of
condence very high and keep managing for longer. Conversely, if
management is very expensive and the consequences of mistakenly
declaring eradication are insubstantial, it would be best to set a
much lower threshold and declare success sooner. Rather than
using guesswork and implicit value judgements, these risks and
consequences can be considered explicitly using decision theory.
For example, we recently completed a study analysing the fox
eradication program on Phillip Island in Victoria (see The tale of
the Phillip Island fox on the next page). Lying just o the coast of
Victoria, Phillip Island is a signicant chunk of land having an area of
approximately 100 km
. Foxes were rst seen on the island in the early
1900s, and threaten much of the island’s wildlife. Indeed, they are the
number one threat to little penguins which, due to fox predation, have
been reduced from ten colonies to one. This remaining colony is a
We found it will take six years of
continued management without seeing
any foxes to be 90% certain they have
been eradicated [on Phillip Island], and
nine years of continued management to
be 95% certain.
Since they were introduced for recreational hunting in the mid-
1800s, foxes (Vulpes vulpes) have spread across most of Australia.
They have played a major role in the decline of a number of species
of native animals and are regarded as one of Australia’s worst
invasive predators. ‘Predation by the European red fox’ is listed as
a key threatening process under the Commonwealth Environment
Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
More info:
(Photo by Harley Kingston,
Page 6 Decision Point #81 - August 2014
The tale of the Phillip Island fox
Eradication, cost and confidence
By Duncan Sutherland (Phillip Island Nature Parks)
popular tourist attraction, attracting around 500,000 visitors per year
who pay to watch the nightly Penguin Parade, when penguins return
to their nests after sunset.
Fox management, involving searching, hunting, baiting, and trapping,
has been conducted across most of the island since 1986. Eort
has been ramped up since 2006, with the aim of eradication. This
campaign seems to be working, with the number of foxes detected
having decreased substantially in recent years. Managers expect
that in the near future they will stop detecting foxes. They wanted to
estimate the current fox population, and plan ahead by working out
how long management should continue after foxes are no longer
Using data on the number of foxes and sta-hours spent on
management, we built a model of the fox population on Phillip
Island (Rout et al., 2014). We estimated that there may have been as
many as 200 foxes on the island in 1996, but in June 2012 there were
approximately 11 remaining. We then projected our model into a
hypothetical future where no further foxes are detected. We found
it will take six years of continued management without seeing any
foxes to be 90% certain they have been eradicated, and nine years of
continued management to be 95% certain.
In 1907 a ‘pet’ fox jumped ship, abandoning the crew of a shing vessel
as it passed Phillip Island, and swam ashore. Lying at the entrance of
Western Port, Phillip Island is home to extensive colonies of breeding
seabirds including short-tailed shearwaters and little penguins. Its
also a refuge for threatened shorebirds such as hooded plovers. What
a paradise this must have been for that enterprising fox! The following
year there was evidence that the fox had caused the death of many
short-tailed shearwaters.
Undoubtedly, other foxes soon joined it on Phillip Island and by 1918
the impact of fox predation on the local seabirds was considered a
threat to their very existence. The local council decided to sponsor
two residents to hunt foxes on the island and thus began a protracted
campaign to control this damaging predator.
For the next 60 years, foxes were hunted opportunistically. Poison baits
were laid on small scales, but seabirds continued to succumb to fox
predation. In 1980, a formal fox control program was initiated to reduce
predation on little penguins at the Penguin Parade, a tourism venue
near the western end of Phillip Island. Initially hunters operated around
the Parade and poison baits were laid out at high intensity in a couple
of years. However, because of the perceived risks to domestic dogs,
baiting was discontinued.
For the next 25 years eorts to reduce fox numbers on Phillip
Island were continued. These eorts included day hunts with dogs,
spotlighting at night, fox trapping and den fumigation. While many
foxes were being removed, their population size was not being
In 2006, things changed. The aim was no longer to control foxes on
Phillip Island, it was far more ambitious: complete eradication. There
were three phases recognised in the eradication campaign: a knock-
down to substantially reduce the fox population, a clean-up’ phase to
remove the last remaining individuals, and a ‘post-eradication phase to
monitor for, and prevent, future fox incursions.
Eradicating foxes
Continued from page 5
To achieve ‘knock-down, Phillip Island Nature Parks implemented an
island-wide baiting program several times a year. This was on top of
existing techniques. Sta were dedicated specically to fox control
and to coordinating a communication programme that involved local
residents and stakeholders.
Now, in 2014, an eective ‘knock-down has been achieved with
multiple signs of success. The number of little penguins known to be
killed by foxes has dropped from about 200 per year to almost zero.
Populations of several ground nesting birds including Cape Barren
geese and masked lapwings have more than doubled since 2006.
Importantly, the rate of fox detections has dramatically declined.
So we are now in the clean-up’ phase, and we’ve been making
preparations for the day when no more foxes are detected and we can
declare that Phillip Island is fox free. But we know that we have to be
careful about making such a declaration. Foxes are elusive creatures
and we can go some time between fox detections, even while they
persist on the island. So, the big question is: When can we safely declare
that foxes have been eradicated?
In partnership with Dr Tracy Rout and Professor Michael McCarthy
we have developed a Bayesian catch-eort model that estimates the
probability of detecting foxes from the four main control techniques
used between 1987 and 2012 as a function of the eort invested in
each technique. From this model we can also estimate the number of
foxes on Phillip Island given the eort expended, the number of foxes
removed and the detection rate from each technique (Rout et al., 2014).
This modelling has revealed that fox numbers have dropped from
about 150 in 2005 to less than 20 in 2012. From the estimated detection
rates it can be discerned that poison baiting was the most eective
control technique to remove foxes and that its implementation across
Phillip Island in 2006 was critical for an eective ‘knock-down.
Risk and cost
Declaring eradication when foxes are still present means they
could bounce back to pre-2006 numbers, jeopardising six years of
eradication eorts costing around $160,000 a year. To minimise these
expected management costs, it’s best to continue managing for
Attempts to eradicate the Asian musk shrew from the Mauritian island
of Ile aux Aigrettes in 1999 began well. After 49 days of trapping, none
were being caught. Eight days had passed without any individuals
being trapped so the eradication was declared a success and the
program was scaled back. A bit later they started turning up again. In
2000 the program was abandoned.
Decision Point #81 - August 2014 Page 7
This has significant implications for the
fox eradication campaign on Phillip Island
and resourcing in general. Three years is
a long time to maintain fox control across
the island without seeing any foxes or
their spoor.
Another little penguin lost to fox predation on Phillip Island.
(Photo courtesy of Phillip Island Nature Parks)
So when can we declare eradication? Well, given the low detectability
of foxes over the years, it will take at least four years without foxes
being detected before we can be 80% sure that eradication has been
achieved. And it’ll be longer if we want to be more certain of success.
But with greater certainty comes increased management costs accrued
during the campaign. The inverse is also true, shorter campaigns cost
less, but success is less certain.
The net cost of a campaign incorporates two elements. Declaring too
early allows the fox population to re-establish, incurring the costs
of repeating the ‘knock-down and clean-up phases. However, the
probability of this being required declines over time. Declaring too late
and were mounting a campaign against a fox population thats not
there, and the overall cost climbs. So, to optimise this trade-o we also
modelled the net expected cost of the campaign as years progressed
(Regan et al. 2006). Phillip Island Nature Parks spent about
$160,000 per year during the ‘knock-down phase and this
gives an optimised time to declare eradication to be at least
three years after the last sign of foxes has been detected.
This has signicant implications for the fox eradication
campaign on Phillip Island and resourcing in general. Three
years is a long time to maintain fox control across the island
without seeing any foxes or their spoor. We haven’t even
reached the start of the three years either; we still see some
signs of fox presence on the island.
As a result of the environmental decision science that has
been done on the topic of ‘when to declare eradication,
support has been given to continue fox management for an
extended period and to increase our capacity to detect the
last remaining foxes. Phillip Island Nature Parks recognises the
need to increase our ability to detect foxes so that eradication
is more certain and can be declared sooner. This will
ultimately reduce the costs of the campaign while ensuring its
Publication of this work has been instrumental to attracting
funding from the Ian Potter Foundation and the Penguin
Foundation to support the fox eradication campaign into the future. So
far, additional support has come in the form of a full time sta member
for three years to handle two specially trained scent dogs that will join
the hunt to sni out the last remaining foxes from their refuges, and
the implementation of extensive camera trapping across the island to
improve detection rates.
Baiting, spotlighting and trapping will continue as before. The
expectation is that these new techniques will increase our success at
detecting the last remaining foxes and this data can be incorporated
into a revised catch-eort model.
With more weapons in the arsenal, we hope the last remaining foxes
will be located and removed, the revised model will indicate eradication
can be declared sooner, and Phillip Island’s wildlife can again enjoy a
fox-free environment.
More info: Duncan Sutherland
three years with no detections, when we can be around 70% certain
of successful eradication. If we also consider the other costs of foxes
bouncing back, such as decreases in numbers of penguins, shorebirds,
and paying eco-tourists, it’s best to continue management for longer
and be much more certain before declaring foxes eradicated.
So what does all this mean for foxes in Tasmania? Well, without public
access to the report the State Government based its decision on, its
impossible to say how they’ve assessed the risks and consequences
of this decision. We know that foxes are extremely hard to detect,
and there appears to have been periods in the past when foxes were
present in Tasmania but no physical evidence was being found. We
would therefore expect the certainty of successful eradication to
increase very slowly with the time since foxes were last detected. Its
not clear whether the certainty of success has actually been estimated,
as we did for Phillip Island.
The consequences of mistakenly declaring foxes eradicated in
Tasmania are potentially huge, depending on how well the newly
‘wound back’ monitoring scheme can detect foxes at low numbers.
If the scheme fails and numbers increase to levels seen before the
eradication program, then the multi-million dollar investment (cited as
around $50 million in recent reports) in the program would be wasted.
If numbers increase to a level where future eradication is impossible, it
is likely there will be catastrophic impacts for Tasmania’s biodiversity.
Foxes are among the most destructive invasive species in Australia,
and a main cause of our extraordinarily high mammal extinction rate.
Let’s hope, for Devil’s sake too, that the Tasmanian Government has
got this decision right.
More info: Tracy Rout and
Mick Mccarthy
Regan TJ, MA McCarthy, PWJ Baxter, F Dane Panetta & HP Possingham
(2006). Optimal eradication: when to stop looking for an invasive
plant. Ecology Letters 9:759–766.
Rout TM, R Kirkwood, DR Sutherland, S Murphy & MA McCarthy (2014).
When to declare successful eradication of an invasive predator?
Animal Conservation 17: 125–132.
Page 8 Decision Point #81 - August 2014
By Nick Murray (University of Queensland)
Who speaks for the tidal at? There are many voices for the
mangrove forest, the coral reef and the seagrass meadow, but the
chorus for the mud, sand and silt ats that sit hidden under shallow
water for most of the tidal cycle is often silent. Not only do hundreds
of species of migratory bird depend on them for their existence,
this coastal ecosystem also protects large chunks of humanity
and provide ecosystem services to hundreds of millions of people
around the world.
A zone under pressure
The problem for all coastal ecosystems is the shifting character of the
coastal zone. The last 50 years has seen the global human population
migrating rapidly to coastal regions. As a result, coastlines around
the world have become a focus of expansion of urban, agricultural
and industrial areas. This development is having a major impact on
coastal ecosystems, which has resulted in the widespread loss and
degradation of ecosystems such as mangroves, seagrasses, coral
reefs and tidal ats. And that has major consequences for humans
and nature. In terms of the human cost, coastal ecosystems are a
frontline defence that protects billions of dollars of infrastructure
from storms and sea level rise, and maintaining their integrity is
among the most cost-eective options for coastal protection.
Tidal ats are a widespread coastal ecosystem that is frequently
overlooked in the planning and management of coastal resources.
They are among the most widespread of any coastal ecosystem and,
as well as providing ecosystem services to hundreds of millions of
people worldwide, they sustain a suite of threatened and declining
species. For instance, tidal ats support the majority of the world’s
migratory shorebird species, enabling their yearly migration from
the arctic to areas as far south as Patagonia (see Decision Point #67).
In many countries tidal ats don’t receive the same protected
status as mangroves, coral reefs or seagrass communities, and
consequently many tidal ats have been lost to development and
other threatening processes. At least 15 of the world’s 20 most
ood-vulnerable cities have major systems of tidal ats located in
adjacent coastal areas, and protecting these ecosystems seems
an ideal option for cost-eective adaptation to climate change.
Unfortunately, their proximity to centres of human population
have also made these areas targets for cheap and rapid coastal
Drawing a mud map
So, what’s the magnitude of the problem? Until now we have
had no way of knowing just how much of this declining coastal
ecosystem has been destroyed, or how much and where it remains.
The principal reason for the lack of accurate maps of this ecosystem
is due to the rapidly changing conditions they encounter: changing
tides either expose or cover them, severely limiting the application
of classical remote sensing methods.
To solve this problem, a small team of remote sensors and spatial
ecologists from the EDG have been developing methods to map
tidal ats over very large areas. Using the heavily developed tidal
ats of mainland East Asia as a case study, we have developed a
rapid mapping approach for identifying the distribution of tidal ats
while assessing their changing status at continental scales. The tidal
ats in this region, which fringe the countries of North Korea, South
Korea and China, are among the largest in the world measuring up
to 20 kilometres wide in some places.
With more than 28,000 images
to choose from, we determined the
changing status of tidal flats across more
than 14,000 kilometres of coastline.
Mapping coastal wetlands on the most heavily developed coastline on Earth
Between a rock and a hard place:
The tragedy of
disappearing tidal flats
Easily overlooked, and invisible for much of the tide cycle, mud ats are
disappearing right before our very eyes. And their loss comes with an
enormous cost. (Photo by Nick Murray)
Decision Point #81 - August 2014 Page 9
Our methods use free data from the USGS Landsat Archives and
freely available regional tide models, and allow fast implementation
across thousands of kilometres. Indeed, with more than 28,000
images to choose from, we determined the changing status of tidal
ats across more than 14,000 kilometres of coastline.
Losing the flat
Our results demonstrate that tidal ats in East Asia are being
destroyed at rates similar to other major at-risk ecosystems, such as
tropical forests and mangroves. The principal cause of these losses
related to coastal development. Changes to sedimentation regimes
due to the damming of major rivers is also an issue as this results in
oshore losses of tidal ats.
In East Asia, land scarcity is a severe issue and often the cheapest
method of acquiring land for large coastal developments is through
land creation, often termed reclamation. Tidal ats, which are
generally characterized by low-sloping ats in areas protected from
severe weather, have proven an ideal environment for cheap and
rapid coastal development. This radical transformation involves
the construction of seawalls,
inlling and nishing for land
use. These areas are then
developed into new parcels of
land for aquaculture, agriculture,
surburbs and industry.
Loss of coastal wetlands to land
reclamation is a global problem
that is severely aecting the
world’s coastlines. In China alone
more than 1.2 million hectares of
wetland reclamation took place
in the last 50 years, perhaps
accounting for more than 5%
of the world’s tidal wetlands
according to some estimates.
This is clearly a symptom of rapid
coastal urbanization. This arc
of growth will form one of the
world’s largest urban areas by
2030: a continuous coastal urban
corridor over 1,800 kilometres
long. The rapid pace of coastal
population growth and sea-
level rise, as well as increasing
demand for aquaculture, coastal
wind farms, and tide energy will
certainly apply further pressure to the world’s tidal
ats in the future.
An uncertain future
An eective conservation strategy must manage
the complex economic and social trade-os that
drive coastal development. Decision-making that
simultaneously plans for coastal development and
coastal conservation along the world’s most rapidly
developing shores is clearly needed. For example,
places where natural values have eectively been lost
due to sediment depletion and coastal subsidence
could be prioritised for development.
As part of a carefully integrated plan, this could
ease pressure on a functioning network of coastal
protected areas and ensure continued delivery
of ecosystem services. Not only might this avert
catastrophic extinctions of coastal biodiversity, it will
also help us ensure we have a coastline capable of
adapting to an increasingly uncertain future.
More info: Nicholas Murray
Note: This work was carried out while Nick was based the University of
Queensland (with CEED). He is now working at the Centre for Ecosystem
Science at the University of New South Wales.
Further reading
Murray NJ, RS Clemens, SR Phinn, HP Possingham & RA Fuller
(2014). Tracking the rapid loss of tidal wetlands in the Yellow
Sea. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 12: 267-72.
Murray NJ, SR Phinn, RS Clemens CM Roelfsema & RA Fuller (2012).
Continental Scale Mapping of Tidal Flats across East Asia Using
the Landsat Archive. Remote Sensing 4: 3417-26.
MacKinnon J, YI Verkuil, & NJ Murray (2012). IUCN situation analysis
on East and Southeast Asian intertidal habitats, with particular
reference to the Yellow Sea (including the Bohai Sea). Occasional
Paper of the IUCN Species Survival Commission No. 47.
p. ii + 70 pp. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.
In China alone more than 1.2 million hectares of wetland reclamation has taken place
in the last 50 years, perhaps accounting for more than 5% of the worlds’ tidal wetlands.
(Photo by Nick Murray)
The loss of tidal ats along migratory pathways, especially staging sites (where birds must replenish their
energy stores during migration for long, energetically expensive ights) can have extreme consequences for
shorebird populations. For the millions of shorebirds that migrate through the East Asian-Australasian Flyway,
the intertidal areas of Asia are a crucial migratory bottleneck. (Photo by Nick Murray)
Page 10 Decision Point #81 - August 2014
Knowing there is a problem and doing something about it can
sometimes be entirely dierent things. Koalas, while much beloved
by the Australian public, have been in steady decline for at least
the last decade. A combination of threats like habitat loss and
modication, car collisions and dog attacks, led to the koala being
listed under the EPBC Act in 2012. Increasingly, more councils (and
Local Government Areas) are drafting and implementing local koala
management plans and developing strategies to combat losses and
aid in population recovery. However, in order for these conservation
goals to be eective, members of the general public must be willing
to adopt the suggested actions and incorporate them into their
everyday routine. How feasible is this when such a large gap exists
between peoples’ intent to conserve and their actual conservation
behavior? What might inuence those decisions?
The human dimensions of koala conservation
Studies aimed at understanding community beliefs toward wildlife
are the human dimensions of wildlife research. They can aid in the
management of a wildlife species by incorporating public opinion
into decision-making. At its core, human dimensions research
aspires to determine the behaviours, attitudes and values of
stakeholders and community members in order to understand the
factors that guide them. Human behavior, however, is complex both
in its diversity and the factors that inuence it. It is connected to
things such age, gender, culture, values, attitudes and beliefs about
nature. Some of these are easy to measure, others are not.
We examined the inuence of values and demographic
characteristics on people’s perceptions and attitudes toward
koalas and koala conservation in the urban and peri-urban (larger,
urban adjacent properties) environment. The study was carried
out in Southeast Queensland in the communities of Elanora and
Currumbin Waters within the Gold Coast Local Government Area.
Elanora and Currumbin Waters are some of the few areas remaining
in southeast Queensland that still have a relatively large population
of urban koalas, and at the time of the study, the area was the
focus of the Gold Coast City Council’s conservation eorts as part
of a new Koala Conservation Plan. There is a mix of dense urban
settlements, larger more vegetated peri-urban properties at the
outskirts and a wildlife ‘friendly eco-village in the Currumbin Valley.
Residents in dierent urban density neighborhoods were surveyed
and the results were analysed using Principal Component Analysis
(PCA) and Analysis of Variance (ANOVA). The goal was to compare
conservation views between residents of dierent locations within
the same community and their accessibility to and knowledge of
local koala populations.
Can demographics guide management?
In this study, men and women both had highly positive views
of the intrinsic value of koalas. They liked seeing koalas in their
neighborhoods. However, there were gender dierences in the
actions that respondents would undertake in this study. Men were
considerably less likely than women to drive slowly at night or
support decreased speed limits in koala habitat areas.
One of our key nding was that there was a signicant dierence
between attitudes toward koala conservation in respondents living
A mismatch between attitudes and actions
Conserving koalas in suburban and peri-urban areas
By Nicole Shumway (University of Queensland)
Figure 1: Map of the study site showing the Gold Coast Local
Government Area in south-east Queensland and residential areas
where surveys were carried out: (a) suburban, (b) peri-urban, and
(c) eco-village (base image from Google Earth). Koala sightings are
shown as white dots (source: Gold Coast City Council and Wildcare,
Queensland Government).
Area of residence, whether respondents lived in
the suburban, peri-urban or eco-village areas, was
more influential in determining the likelihood of a
respondent’s participation in conservation actions
than any other variable or demographic.
Koala signage in Currumbin Waters neighborhood. Vehicle collisions
are an increasing cause of death for koalas, especially in urban areas
(Photo Gold Coast City Council)
Decision Point #81 - August 2014 Page 11
Accounting for nonmarket costs and
benefits should be encouraged to enable
a more systematic, rational process for
allocating government funds.
Killing koalas with cars, dogs & disease
Across much of eastern Australia the koala is declining due to
habitat loss, disease, vehicle collisions, dog attacks and climate
change. Many of these threats result in higher death rates and
often occur together, therefore recovery strategies for koala
populations need to employ strategies that address multiple
Rhodes JR, CF Ng, DL de Villiers, HJ Preece, CA McAlpine & HP
Possingham (2011). Using integrated population modelling
to quantify the implications of multiple threatening
processes for a rapidly declining population. Biological
Conservation 144: 1081–1088.
Read about this research in Decision Point #50
in dierent urban densities. This study found that area of residence,
whether respondents lived in the suburban, peri-urban or eco-
village areas, was more inuential in determining the likelihood of
a respondent’s participation in conservation actions than any other
variable or demographic. The results of our study indicate that
suburban residents are signicantly less likely to have a positive
attitude toward koala conservation and are therefore signicantly
less likely to take action to improve the conservation status of koalas
in their neighborhoods. This suggests that participants living on
larger, peri-urban properties with more exposure to native wildlife
were more likely to take positive action toward koala conservation.
Without further study, however, it is dicult to determine whether
living in suburban areas with little access to bushland and native
wildlife is the cause of a lower regard for koala conservation, or
if individuals with less conservation education are simply more
likely to live in denser, more urbanized areas. By quantifying what
inuences attitude toward native wildlife, we can more accurately
determine causes of species decline and formulate ways in which to
minimize human impacts.
Incorporating Social Science into Management
Understanding residents knowledge and attitudes toward koalas
can help alleviate declining populations and provide more informed
and eective management decisions. This study gives local
managers a better idea of the attitudes and level of knowledge of
residents and where to focus education to encourage increased
eort in koala conservation. For example, targeting suburban
populations to raise awareness of local koala populations may
Stay up in the tree koala, theres a dog just below you!! Resident koala
in study area (peri-urban), on a property with a free roaming dog.
(Photo by Nicole Shumway)
increase conservation interest, whereas in peri-urban areas,
conservation actions are more likely to be implemented successfully.
So why are koala declines continuing to occur, despite all evidence
that Australians appreciate and value koalas? The answer is simple,
though not easily remedied: everyone has an important role to play
in wildlife conservation, and it needs to start with the decisions
made at home and at work. Governments alone cannot be held
completely responsible for the conservation of at risk species. Thus,
understanding the values of citizens toward wildlife is crucial for
eective conservation management and planning.
The social science behind these values is equally important; what is
the point of management planning if no one participates. If indeed
area of residence is as important for positive attitudes and actions
as this study suggests, giving
urban residents greater access
to bushland habitat will only
enhance koala conservation.
Incorporating these human
dimension issues into
management will help
minimize wildlife declines in
growing urban areas.
More info: Nicki Shumway
Shumway N, L Seabrook, C
McAlpine & P Ward (2014).
A mismatch of community
attitudes and actions: A study
of koalas. Landscape and
Urban Planning 126, 42-52.
(a) (b)
Figure 2: Bar plots of inuence of residential area on (a) attitude toward koala conservation, (b) unlikeliness to
participate in koala conservation action (numerical values represent PCA scores). EV stands for eco-village, PU for
peri-urban and SU for suburban.
Page 12 Decision Point #81 - August 2014
Late in 2013 the NSW Government adopted a version of conservation
triage’ that is based on our cost eectiveness approach – the Project
Prioritisation Protocol or PPP. The NSW Government called their
program Saving our Species and it provides a coherent framework for
the conservation of threatened species.
Saving our Species will help rationally allocate millions of dollars of
government funds to improve the plight of threatened species. The
approach combines information about the benet, cost and probability
of success of a conservation project. It enables the government to
identify a suite of actions that saves as many species as possible.
A rational approach
PPP was developed by EDG researchers at the University of Queensland
back in 2008, in close association with the New Zealand Department
of Conservation. Its a tool to help optimise threatened species
management. Its successful application in New Zealand has given other
states and countries the condence to consider a rational approach to
funding threatened species.
So what do we mean by ‘rational’? In our case it means a transparent
and robust method for deciding between multiple options available
to government when it comes to allocating a very limited budget to
save as many endangered species as possible. Possibly the best way
to appreciate what it means is by considering the alternative which in
times gone by has been the traditional way governments have decided
to allocate money to endangered species. This traditional approach
has involved departments giving out money on a species by species
basis without consideration of how one decision aects another (often
referred to as an ad hoc allocation). It frequently involved ministers
pledging support to a species that was about to go extinct rather than
a consideration of where the best return on investment might be found.
It usually involved decisions that were opaque’ in that the logic behind
the allocation was not revealed, making it impossible to learn.
In practice, a rational approach pays major dividends. Rational
prioritization in New Zealand, for example, has meant that more than
twice as many species can be secured as compared with the previous ad
hoc allocation process.
Prosecuting the case
Our consistent and persuasive arguments about rational conservation
asset prioritisation, and EDG’s ongoing engagement with multiple
conservation agencies (governmental and NGOs) is creating tectonic
shifts in the way conservation managers distribute their resources.
In 2013 an open letter to the US Secretary of the Interior from the
Ecological Society of America demanded that the USAs Endangered
Species Act – arguably the most important piece of conservation
legislation on the planet – be enacted according to a PPP-style
algorithm. This cited the application of PPP in New Zealand as World’s
best practice. The approaches developed in PPP are now underpinning
the way several state governments in Australia approach conservation
triage, most recently in NSW with their Save our Species plan announced
late in 2013.
The Project Prioritisation Protocol concept has inuenced the 2012
senate inquiry into the Effectiveness of threatened species and
ecological communities protection in Australia (pages viii, xi, 77, 143-4,
159) and the 2009 Independent Review of the Environment Protection
and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (page 130).
Current and future developments
The PPP approach relies on the fundamentals of structured decision-
making, a framework that EDG champions. The EDG is now working to
rene and extend the basic framework. CEED postdoctoral researchers,
Ayesha Tulloch, Martina Di Fonzo, Will Probert and Joseph Bennett,
worked throughout 2013 with Liana Joseph and Hugh Possingham to
advance the protocol and associated software. These advances include
dealing with more complex weightings to account for the phylogenetic
distinctiveness of species, considering risk and uncertainty, and looking
at the possibility of partially funding some species.
Funding sources
The initial research was funded by a Commonwealth Environment
Research Facilities grant, ARC grants and The University of Queensland.
Direct funding from the New Zealand Department of Conservation
and then the NSW state government tailored the approach to their
circumstances. Recent funding has been from the ARC Centre of
Excellence for Environmental Decisions and the National Environmental
Research Program (Commonwealth Department of the Environment).
More info: Liana Joseph
The Project Prioritisation Protocol
A tool for allocating funds to threatened species
By Liana Joseph and Hugh Possingham (University of Queensland)
I spy an outcome
To highlight the many contributions our research is making
towards conservation outcomes, Decision Point is running
a series of short stories on what we have achieved. In this
instalment Liana Joseph and Hugh Possingham talk about the
development of the Project Prioritisation Protocol and what this
has meant for the management of endangered species both here
in Australia and overseas.
PPP: how it works, how it became policy
Dial PPP fo robust allocation
Choosing management priorities for threatened species
Decision Point #29
The history of an outcome’
How conservation triage became policy
Decision Point #76
Decision scientist Liana Joseph (centre) with conservation policy makers
from the New Zealand Department of Conservation (Shaun O’Connor on
the left and Richard Maloney). It was this partnership of decision science
and conservation policy development that saw the creation of the Project
Prioritisation Protocol.
Decision Point #81 - August 2014 Page 13
The ‘last wilderness on Earth requires a better system of protected areas
according to new research led by EDG researcher Dr Justine Shaw. That
wilderness, of course, is Antarctica.
“Most of Antarctica is covered in ice, with less than 1% permanently ice-
free, says Shaw. This ice-free land is where the majority of biodiversity
occurs yet only 1.5% of these important areas belong to Antarctic
Specially Protected Areas under the Antarctic Treaty System.
Threats to the ecological integrity of Antarctica are accelerating because
of a growing variety, intensity, and frequency of human activities and a
rapidly changing climate. Biological invasions are most signicant, with
several established populations are already impacting native species in
Human activities in Antarctica typically take two forms: the activities of
National Antarctic Programs (ie, scientists and their support personnel)
and those that take place as part of fee-paying recreation (ie, tourists
and their support personnel). Antarctica has over 40,000 visitors a year,
and with more and more research facilities being built in the continent’s
tiny ice-free area. Activities associated with science include construction
of buildings, roads and fuel depots.
Growing instances of unintentional damage are also being recorded,
such as the establishment of harmful non-indigenous species, sewage
spills, point-source pollution, and destruction of vegetation. All
human activities, be they tourism- or science related, have increased
considerably over the last twenty years and are predicted to continue
to do so.
Dr Shaw and colleagues determined how well the existing protected-
area system represents terrestrial biodiversity and assessed the risk to
protected areas from biological invasions, the regions most signicant
conservation threat.
“Our assessment quantied the proportion of ice-free land that is
protected, explains Shaw. “We then examined how well these area
represented Antarctic biodiversity using recently developed protected-
area assessment metrics and quantied the level of threat these
protected areas face from biological invasion using information from a
recent, spatially explicit risk assessment.
Their study found that all 55 areas designated for protection of land-
based biodiversity lie close to sites of human activity. Seven are at high
risk for biological invasions, and ve of the distinct ice-free ecoregions
have no protected areas at all.
Shaw says the study shows that protected areas in Antarctica currently
fall well short of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets – an international
biodiversity strategy that aims to reduce threats to biodiversity, and
protect ecosystems, species and genetic diversity.
“When we compared Antarcticas protected area system with the
protected areas of nations round the world, we found that Antarctica
ranks in the lowest 25% of assessed countries, she says. “Many people
think that Antarctica is well protected from threats to its biodiversity
because it’s isolated and no one lives there, however we show that there
are threats to Antarctic biodiversity.
“We need to establish protected areas that are representative of
Antarctic biodiversity to protect a diverse suite of native insects, plants
A call to better protect Antarctic biodiversity
It’s big, it’s valuable, it’s unique and at risk
and seabirds, many of which occur nowhere else in the world. We also
need to ensure that Antarctic protected areas are not going to be
impacted by increasing human activities, such as pollution, trampling
or invasive species.
Professor Hugh Possingham, a co-author on the study, explains that
Antarctica is one of the last places on Earth that has no cities, agriculture
or mining. “It is unique in this respect – a true wilderness. If we don’t
establish adequate and representative protected areas in Antarctica this
unique and fragile ecosystem could be lost, he says.
Although we show that the risks to biodiversity from increasing human
activity are high, they are even worse when considered together with
climate change. This combined eect provides even more incentive for
a better system of area protection in Antarctica.
In a global context, the designation of Antarctica as “a natural reserve,
devoted to peace and science” under the Antarctic Treaty System is
unique; no other continent has a similar level of apparent protection.
This situation may be at least partly responsible for Antarcticas
repeated exclusion from global assessments of protected-area
eectiveness, says Shaw. “However, its apparent protection status
reects management intent, not management outcomes.
The governance system is in place, through the Antarctic Treaty System
for a better protected area system and unlike most of other places in
the world there are few competing stakeholders for protected area
Although the Antarctic environment is less utilised and populated than
others, activities permitted on the continent such as road and building
construction, vehicle trac and waste disposal are having substantial
impacts on biodiversity.
“What is required now is a systematic network designed to best
conserve the biodiversity of Antarctica as a whole. Once a protected
area is designated and human activity restricted, management eorts
are relatively minimal compared to protected-area management
requirements on other continents. And what we would gain would be a
protected area network that everyone could truly be proud of.
More info: Justine Shaw
Shaw JD, A Terauds, MJ Riddle, HP Possingham & SL Chown (2014).
Antarcticas Protected Areas Are Inadequate, Unrepresentative,
and at Risk. PLoS Biol 12(6): e1001888. doi:10.1371/journal.
its apparent protection status reflects
management intent, not management
Only 1% of Antarctica is free from ice. These areas are critical to the
conservation of Antarctic biodiversity but only 1.5% of this ice-free
space is formally protected. (Photo by Aleks Terauds)
Page 14 Decision Point #81 - August 2014
Decision thresholds for
management actions
A NERP workshop
(University of Melbourne, May 2014)
By Carly Cook (MU), Kelly Hunt de Bie (UoM), and Prue Addison (UoM)
Managing natural environments involves dicult decisions about when
to intervene to prevent undesirable changes. Intervening too early may
result in unnecessary management actions, while intervening too late
may lead to much greater costs or irreversible outcomes. Managers,
therefore, need to be able to identify the most appropriate point to take
action, and this is often referred to as a decision threshold (see Figure 1
for two examples).
Developing decision thresholds to guide management requires a good
ecological understanding of the system, along with knowledge of the
social, political and economic drivers at play. Striking the appropriate
balance between these factors needs an active dialogue between
scientists and managers to ensure appropriate decision thresholds are
developed that take into account the constraints faced by management
Protected area management agencies within Australia (and several
other countries) are working toward developing and implementing
decision thresholds to guide management action. However, progress
has been slow because there is little information sharing, virtually no
coordination of eort, and ad hoc engagement between managers and
scientists about how to identify and dene decision thresholds. With this
in mind we sought to bring together managers from across Australia
and New Zealand to share ideas and accelerate progress toward the
development of decision thresholds for protected area management.
Researchers at the University of Melbourne and Monash University
facilitated a workshop funded by the NERP ED Hub with 14 managers
from 10 dierent government and non-government protected area
management agencies across Australia and New Zealand. The diverse
participation by agency sta reects the broad interest in this topic.
The workshop started with representatives from all of the agencies
sharing their current progress towards developing and implementing
decisions thresholds. We found widespread support for the idea of
decisions thresholds as a management tool. However, agencies have
dierent objectives for developing thresholds and are using dierent
approaches. Some are only just beginning to explore the concept while
others are implementing thresholds in specic cases. Some agencies
were focussed on supporting day-to-day management decisions, others
on building decision thresholds into existing monitoring, evaluation
and reporting programs that would improve management outcomes
and the transparency of management decisions.
The discussion revealed that decision thresholds can take many
dierent forms (eg, a quota for sustainable harvest or culling over-
abundant species) and that management agencies have developed
decision thresholds for a least one management issue, generally in
relation to managing threats to biodiversity rather than focussed on
important species or ecosystems.
During the workshop, there was fruitful discussion around the internal
obstacles faced by agencies in developing and implementing decision
thresholds within their management context. Many useful suggestions
were made about how to overcome some of these operational barriers.
There were also numerous scientic knowledge gaps identied that
The most exciting development of
the workshop was broad agreement on
a general framework that sets out the
keys elements required to set decision
need to be addressed to assist agencies develop decision thresholds
grounded in the best available science. The similarity between the
knowledge gaps faced by dierent agencies was striking, suggesting
targeted research could make a signicant dierence to overcoming
many of the obstacles. There was broad support for a collaborative
research agenda to develop an approach to identifying decision
thresholds that could be applied in a wide range of dierent contexts.
The most exciting development of the workshop was broad agreement
on a general framework that sets out the key elements required to set
decision thresholds. This framework would t within the monitoring,
evaluation and adaptive management frameworks already in place
within the agencies. The next step will be developing a series of
questions that need to be addressed at each step and a range of decision
support tools that will assist agencies in answering those questions.
There was strong support for testing this framework for establishing
decision thresholds through a range of case studies, targeting issues
of current concern to Australian and New Zealand protected area
All the participants agreed that the workshop was a great success and
very timely for their management agencies. The opportunity to share
progress, challenges and possible solutions was extremely valuable and
will form the basis of major progress in developing decision thresholds
to guide protected area management. We would like to thank all of the
agencies and their representatives for making the time to contribute
and for their productive contribution to this important topic. The
workshop provided an exciting way forward for an issue that could
make a signicant contribution to the eectiveness of protected area
More info: Kelly Hunt De Bie
Figure 1: Two examples of what a decision threshold might look like. Each
tracks the population size of a species of concern over time (geckos up top,
the seaweed Neptune’s necklace in the lower graph). The dotted line in each
graph represents a decision threshold. When a decline in the species of
concern results in it crossing the threshold, a specic management action
is triggered. (For background on the Neptune’s necklace example, see
Decision Point #74).
Decision Point #81 - August 2014 Page 15
Dbytes is EDG’s internal eNewsletter. It gets sent to members
and associates of EDG each week, and consists of small snippets
of information relating to environmental decision making. They
might be government documents, research articles, blogs or
reports from other research groups. Here are seven bytes from
recent issues. If you would like to receive the Dbytes eNewsletter,
1. Senate committee report into offsets
A Senate committee issued the report from its inquiry into
environmental osets.
2. Drivers of practice change in agricultural land
This ABARES study focuses on the key factors landholders
consider when making decisions to adopt specic land
management practices.
3. Auditors on capacity to manage
compliance of EPBC Act
The ANAO issued a performance audit: ‘Managing Compliance
with Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation
Act 1999 Conditions of Approval’.
4. The Action Plan for Australian Mammals
CSIRO’s Publishings new The Action Plan for Australian
Mammals 2012 book is now out and stock is available. The
authors are John Woinarski, Andrew Burbidge and Peter
5. Green Paper on developing Northern Aust
Minister Warren Truss issued a Green Paper on northern
development and announced the members of a Northern
Australia Advisory Group.
6. Great Barrier Reef Report Card 2012 & 2013
The Great Barrier Reef Report Card 2012 and 2013 measures
progress in action taken to improve water quality in the reef
between July 2009 and June 2013.
7. Effectiveness of Party Climate Policies
The Climate Institute issued ‘Eectiveness Review of Party
Climate Policies: July 2014 - Policy Brief.
Integrating socioeconomics
into urban ecosystem services
A CEED workshop, (UQ, March 2014)
By Marit Wilkerson (University of California, Davis & former CEED
Visiting Research Fellow)
Picture your ideal city park. Perhaps it has benches, well-maintained
jogging paths, plenty of green lawn space to spread out a picnic
blanket. Perhaps it has a wilder’ feel to it, with dense pockets of
native bush and narrow dirt footpaths that allow for uninterrupted
bird-watching and respite from the city bustle. Now what if no
human ever visited it? Perhaps the very ‘wildness’ that appealed
to you has the local residents worried about homeless folks in the
bushes, and they’d rather drive to the parky-park that’s several
kilometers away. But maybe they cannot go to that parky-park
because they only have one car for their large family and it can’t be
spared for recreation. What service does that unvisited park provide
to the local residents then? What services could or should it provide?
This workshop sprang into being because several of us in the CEED
network started wondering how the context around an urban
park matters. Specically (but still very generally!), how does the
socioeconomic context matter? And how does that inuence the
tossed-about idea of ecosystem services? We sat down to hash
out these ideas over a two-day workshop in the beautiful new
fth oor space that CEED occupies at UQ. Our goal was to come
up with not only the conceptual foundation for how to incorporate
socioeconomics into urban ecosystem services but also to address it
in an actionable way.
During the workshop, we sometimes felt we were talking ourselves
in circles (really, how do you dene a ‘service’?!), but we emerged
from it with a rich array of ideas and key overarching messages that
helped keep us on track. Our main take-home message was that
socio-economic factors inuence both the provision and realization/
delivery of ecosystem services. Understanding that concept will
help tailor green space policies and management strategies. In our
opinion, that understanding and the actions that stem from it will
enhance the eectiveness of city planners and managers’ eorts to
bring ecosystem services to their citys residents.
We are currently working on a manuscript that will expand these
thoughts and give them some teeth. We’d like to stress that we
are NOT creating a new framework (lots of those oating around
nowadays) and instead our manuscript will serve as a guide
to operationalize the components of urban ecosystem service
frameworks that have been vague (ie, that socioeconomics bit).
Keep your eyes peeled for more!
Discussing urban ecosystem services were (left to right) Kerrie Wilson,
Jonathan Rhodes, Catherine Lovelock, Danielle Shanahan, Chris Ives,
Matt Mitchell and Marit Wilkerson.
Page 16 Decision Point #81 - August 2014
What’s the point?
50 years and still counting
The world’s most comprehensive information source on the global
conservation status of animal, fungi and plant species – the IUCN
Red List – has turned 50! The Red List has proved to be a powerful
tool to inform and catalyse
action for biodiversity
conservation. It provides
information on population size
and trends, geographic range
and habitat needs of species.
It has now assessed 73,686
assessed species, of which
22,103 are threatened with
Sadly, every update catalogues
the increasingly parlous state
of the world’s biodiversity and
woefully inadequate eorts
made by governments to
address the situation. The 2014
update, for example, nds
that almost 80% of temperate
slipper orchids and over 90%
of lemurs are threatened with
extinction. The newly assessed
Japanese eel has been listed as
Endangered, while the Brazilian
three-banded Armadillo – the
mascot of the 2014 FIFA World
Cup – remains Vulnerable as
its population continues to
As Jane Smart, Director of
IUCN’s Global Species Programme puts it: “there is a long way to go
between where we are now and 2020, the deadline set by nearly
200 governments to halt biodiversity loss and prevent species
No space to land
Many groups of migratory shorebird appear to be showing widespread
decline. Recent research on migratory birds and shorebirds in Japan
and around Australia indicate that some species appear to have
declined by anywhere from 30% to 80% in the past 15 to 30 years.
Most migratory shorebirds feed in the non-breeding season on
invertebrates living under the mud and sand. On their northern
migrations these birds must stop at least once at habitats rich in food
to fatten up again. One of the most important and widely used areas to
stop and refuel is in East Asias Yellow Sea.
There is growing evidence that the critical refuelling habitats in the
Yellow Sea are declining rapidly (see Nick Murray’s story on page 8). In
fact many decision makers in these areas view intertidal habitats as an
easy place to reclaim cheap land from the sea for other uses, something
that has been witnessed in the past in many wetlands of Australia. The
increasing popularity of these kinds of developments over the past few
decades can easily be seen from space.
(Photo by Rob Clemens, see his story on migratory shorebirds in
Decision Point #67)
The Environmental Decision Group (EDG) is a network of
conservation researchers working on the science of eective
decision making to better conserve biodiversity. Our members
are largely based at the University of Queensland, the Australian
National University, the University of Melbourne, the University of
Western Australia, RMIT and CSIRO.
The EDG is jointly funded by the Australian Government’s National
Environmental Research Program and the Australian Research
Council’s Centre of Excellence program.
Decision Point is the monthly magazine of the EDG.
The funding of the research presented in this issue of Decision Point,
like most research, comes from multiple sources and is identied in
the original papers on which the stories are based (references are
provided in each story). In terms of CEED and NERP ED, the research
on successful eradication (p5-7) was supported by CEED; the work
on the mapping tidal ats (p8,9) was supported by CEED; the work
on PPP (12) was supported by CEED and NERP; and the study on
Antarctic protected areas (p13) was supported by NERP.
To contact the EDG please visit our websites at: or
Centre of Excellence
for Environmental
Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur, the
world’s smallest primate, is classied
as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.
This year’s update reports that 94% of
lemurs are now threatened
with extinction.
(Photo © Russell A. Mittermeier)
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.