Connecting conservation policy
makers, researchers and practitioners
A partnership to conserve
Accounting for long-term
costs in conservation
Planning for long-term
management costs in
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
How do conservation NGOs inuence policy?
LaP Hub’s Life at Large
Lessons from CERF and NERP
Does better information save more koalas?
Issue #87 / April 2015
Is it informing our
management of marine
Issue #87 / April 2015
Page 2 Decision Point #87 - April 2015
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 eective 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: http://www.decision-point.com.au/
On the point
The long term
The long term is a strange place. We live in the here-and-now but the
long term stretches out into the distant future. Most of it lies over our
individual event horizons, and many of the choices we make today
aren’t taken with any consideration of what they mean for the long
Environmental decision science is all about bridging the gulf
between the here-and-now and the long term. It attempts to
factor in present day costs and benets, while working out the
consequences of today’s choices on long term outcomes.
This issue of Decision Point examines a range of stories relating
to long term conservation and the way we approach it. Up front
we have Gwen Iacona reecting on how the Tasmanian Land
Conservancy plans for long-term management costs, something
every conservation organisation should be doing (page 4).
On page 6 Melinda Moir and colleagues talk about the ingredients
necessary to run a long term conservation collaboration, in this case
one aimed at conserving invertebrates in WA’s far south (which is
a daunting prospect when you consider many of the inverts in this
region haven’t even been described).
On page 8 we have a special guest editorial from an overseas
associate, Paul Armworth. Paul has reviewed the empirical evidence
of the true costs of conservation management over time and nds
some of the assumptions that have been made in the theory on this
topic are somewhat o the mark.
Prue Addison and Carly Cook tell us we should be proud of some
of the long-term monitoring we do in our marine protected areas,
but that maybe we should be using this data a bit more in how we
manage these areas (page 10).
And we continue our series on inuencing policy (always a long-
term challenge). In this instalment we hear a perspective from
WWF campaigner Martin Taylor on the ingredients of big wins in
conservation (page 12).
May your choices in the here-and-now prosper in the long term.
Research briefs 3
Lessons from CERF and NERP
Does better information save more koalas?
Restoring Jarrah forests in a time of climate change
Planning for the long term costs of PAs 4
The case of the TLC management endowment
Multi-actor invertebrate management 6
A partnership to conserve invertebrates in WA’s far south
The costs of conservation 8
A little empirical truth to help ground the theory
Are we missing the boat? 10
Using long-term monitoring data to manage MPAs
Generating big wins in conservation 12
Martin Taylor on how NGOs inuence policy
Life at Large 14
NERP Landscapes and Policy take in the big picture
Qualitative modelling workshop 15
What is qualitative modelling and when would we do it?
Monitoring in the Great Barrier Reef Marine
Park has been undertaken over many years. Are
we using the information collected to improve
management? See page 10 to nd out.
(Photo by Juergen Freund, AIMS)
Decision Point #87 - April 2015 Page 3
Does better information save more koalas?
Conservation decision-makers constantly face a trade-o between
spending limited funds on direct management action (doing
something), or gaining new information in an attempt to improve
management performance in the future (improving our knowledge).
Value-of-information analysis can help to resolve this trade-o by
evaluating how much management performance could improve if
new information was gained. Value-of-information analysis has been
used extensively in other disciplines, but there are only a few examples
where it has informed conservation planning, none of which have
used it to evaluate the nancial value of gaining new information.
We address this gap by applying value-of-information analysis to the
management of a declining koala Phascolarctos cinereus population.
Decision-makers responsible for managing this population face
uncertainty about survival and fecundity rates, and how habitat cover
aects mortality threats. The value of gaining new information about
these uncertainties was calculated using a deterministic matrix model
of the koala population to nd the expected population growth rate
if koala mortality threats were optimally managed under alternative
model hypotheses, which represented the uncertainties faced by
The researchers found that gaining new information about survival
and fecundity rates and the eect of habitat cover on mortality
threats will do little to improve koala management. Across a range of
management budgets, no more than 1·7% of the budget should be
spent on resolving these uncertainties. The value of information was
low because optimal management decisions were not sensitive to
the uncertainties they considered. Decisions were instead driven by
a substantial dierence in the cost eciency of management actions.
The value of information was up to forty times higher when the cost
eciencies of dierent koala management actions were similar.
The researchers demonstrated that the value of reducing uncertainty
is highest when it is not clear which management action is the
most cost ecient. This study will help expand the use of value-of-
information analyses in conservation by providing a cost-eciency
metric by which to evaluate research or monitoring.
Maxwell SL, JR Rhodes, MC Runge, HP Possingham, CF Ng & E
McDonald-Madden (2014). How much is new information
worth? Evaluating the nancial benet of resolving
management uncertainty. Journal of Applied Ecology 52:12-20.
Editor’s note: For an engaging editorial by Sean Maxwell on the value-of-
information analysis see Decision Point #67, p9.
Lessons from CERF and NERP
Transdisciplinary research, involving close collaboration between
researchers and the users of research, has been a feature of
environmental problem solving for several decades, often spurred
by the need to nd negotiated outcomes to intractable problems. In
2005, the Australian Government allocated funding to its environment
portfolio for public good research, which resulted in consecutive four-
year programmes (Commonwealth Environmental Research Facilities,
CERF; and National Environmental Research Program, NERP). In April
2014, representatives of the funders, researchers and research users
associated with these programmes met to reect on eight years of
experience with these collaborative research models.
This structured reection concluded that successful multi-institutional
transdisciplinary research is necessarily a joint enterprise between
funding agencies, researchers and the end users of research. The
design and governance of research programmes need to explicitly
recognise shared accountabilities among the participants, while
respecting the dierent perspectives of each group.
Experience shows that traditional incentive systems for academic
researchers, current trends in public sector management, and
loose organisation of many end users, work against sustained
transdisciplinary research on intractable problems, which require
continuity and adaptive learning by all three parties. The likelihood
of research inuencing and improving environmental policy and
management is maximised when researchers, funders and research
users have shared goals; there is sucient continuity of personnel
to build trust and sustain dialogue throughout the research process
from issue scoping to application of ndings; and there is sucient
exibility in the funding, structure and operation of transdisciplinary
research initiatives to enable the enterprise to assimilate and respond
to new knowledge and situations.
Campbell CA, EC Lefroy, S Caddy-Retalic, N Bax, PJ Doherty, MM
Douglas, D Johnson, HP Possingham, A Specht, D Tarte & J West
(2015). Designing environmental research for impact. Science of
the total environment doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2014.11.089
Restoring jarrah forests in a time of climate change
Global climate change is projected to increase the frequency and
intensity of drought in dry regions. Severe drought can trigger tree
death and drive persistent vegetation change. To date, most empirical
studies have focused on drought-induced mortality of adult trees, but
this needs to be matched by similar eorts to understand drought
impacts on seedling establishment if we are to understand the
resilience of the world’s forests to projected climate change.
The Jarrah forest ecosystem of south-western Australia has
experienced a 17% reduction in mean annual rainfall from 1975 to
2011. Drought-induced mortality of adult trees has been documented
for Jarrah forest, but there is limited understanding of its capacity
to recover, making it dicult to predict the likelihood of persistent
eects. Long-term records of Jarrah-forest restoration following
bauxite mining are available for the 19-year period between 1992
and 2010. Records include annual data on seedling establishment in
restored mine sites for 587 species in 1938 plots during a period of
Rachel Standish and colleagues built a structural equation model to
discriminate the relative eects of climate, restoration practice, and
their interactive eects on three response variables including species
richness of the restored plant assemblages. Climate variability had a
signicant negative eect on richness, but the eect size was relatively
small, being less than half that of varying restoration practice. They
suggest this is due, in part, to the reliability of rainfall (ie, no change
in the coecient of variation, seasonality or evenness, between recent
and historical climates) despite a threefold dierence in the absolute
amount of wet-season rainfall. Importantly, there was no evidence
that restoration practices were compromised by interacting eects of
increased climate variability.
The researchers concluded that Jarrah-forest establishment in a
restoration context appears resistant to recent changes in climate.
Their research highlights the importance of deriving multiple metrics
of climate change to understand community responses. In particular,
rainfall reliability should be a focus of future research to determine its
broader signicance to seedling establishment in forests subject to a
Standish RJ, MI Daws, AD Gove, RK Didum, AH Grigg, JM Koch
& RJ Hobbs (2015). Long-term data suggest jarrah-forest
establishment at restored mine sites is resistant to climate
variability. Journal of Ecology 103: 78-89.
“Mutual trust, continuity of personnel
and adaptive capacity are key success
Page 4 Decision Point #87 - April 2015
We often think of protected areas as pristine places
that sustain rare and interesting species. It’s often
true that an area is given protected status because it
contains some natural value, like rare species, but what
is frequently overlooked is the cost of sustaining those
natural values over time.
The survival of those rare and interesting species,
for example, often depends on ongoing human
management. Activities such as prescribed burning,
invasive species control, and patrolling for potential
threats can be crucial for supporting the conservation
benet of protected areas. Yet, these activities all incur
an expense, and the costs of managing protected areas
over the long term can be substantial.
One organization that has a proactive approach to
planning for long-term management costs is the
Tasmanian Land Conservancy (TLC). The TLC has
an objective to protect representative Tasmanian
landscapes (such as the Five Rivers Reserve pictured
on the right) in perpetuity. They have acknowledged
that an ‘in perpetuity’ ideal requires an ability to abate
threats and support species persistence in landscapes
that have been fragmented by agriculture and forestry.
Active management (including activities such as weed removal,
see picture below) of these protected areas is therefore a necessity to ensure that desired conservation objectives are achieved. TLC
has established a dedicated endowment that will cover operating
expenses and enable the organization to focus its attention on
conservation and management as opposed to fundraising. We
sought to understand the approach TLC took to establish this fund
and whether it was transferable to other protected area projects.
Costs over time
One of the challenges in planning for future management costs is
determining what type of management is needed, both now and
in the future, and how that cost will change through time. The
TLC based their estimates on previous expenditures. All aspects of
protected area management, including sta time and administrative
overheads, were used to project the annual costs of management
for each protected area.
However, past investment may not represent the ideal levels
of expenditure. In response, TLC has implemented a detailed
program to monitor the eectiveness of management. A long
term conservation management and monitoring program is a
critical component of their system and is overseen by a separate
independent conservation council. This way, they can adapt
management activities (and update cost estimates) if conservation
objectives are not being achieved. Meanwhile, the cost of managing
new protected areas is estimated by extrapolating from similar
sites based on site level features such as size and community types
as well as by using historic information provided by previous land
owners and satellite imagery.
Once the likely annual expenditure for a site has been determined,
enough money needs to be invested to provide this amount of
income for the site every year. The TLC attains that goal by investing
twenty times the annual cost of managing each site. This amount
would pay for managing all the protected areas if there was a 5%
return on the investment. However, they also want the amount of
money available for managing the site to increase each year because
the cost of a given management action is likely to be greater in
Planning for the long term costs of protected areas
The case of the Tasmanian Land Conservancy management endowment
By Gwen Iacona (UQld), Ian Hall (Tasmanian Land Conservancy) and Kerrie Wilson (UQld)
The Serpentine River traversing the Five Rivers Reserve. The Five Rivers Reserve is a
protected area that will be managed into perpetuity because of the management
endowment of the Tasmanian Land Conservancy. (Photo by Grant Dixon)
Volunteers removing weeds from the Tasmanian Land Conservancy’s
Marakoopa Reserve. Weed removal is one of the many types of
reoccurring activities that contribute to the long term expense of
managing a protected area. (Photo by Chris Crerar)
Decision Point #87 - April 2015 Page 5
Figure 1: The Tasmanian Land Conservancy strategy for establishing and maintaining a
management endowment fund.
the future due to ination. The TLC fund is held by a professional
nancial management service and currently provides a return of
7-8% per year. This is adequate to cover the management costs as
well as price increases over time as estimated by the Consumer Price
A conservation legacy
Once a target amount for the endowment has been identied, the
next challenge is actually securing the money. In general it is easier
to fund projects that are clearly valued by the general public. For
instance, raising money for projects that protect charismatic species
that people know and care about, such as protecting a forest of
stunning, large trees, is easier than nding donors for a project
protecting grasslands or spiders.
Funding management costs is a similar problem because it often is
not obvious to the public that management of protected areas is
necessary. The TLC contends that raising funds for a management
endowment relies on educating potential donors about how
protected area management is a legitimate cause that relates to the
To this end, TLC has established endowments that allow donors
to contribute to the fund and provide a conservation legacy in
the name of a loved one. In the current fund, about 20% of the
contributions are from named individual contributions, with the
remainder coming from bequests, TLC raised funds, and several
small and one large corporate endowment. The growth strategy for
the capital fund is not from investment itself but from donations
and bequests and other income not already budgeted.
The TLC fund for management, as of 2014, contains about AU$9
million with a target value of $12 million by 2017. This amount
should be adequate to cover all the basic operating expenses
(management plus overhead) for the 13 TLC protected areas
covering a little over 13,000 hectares.
There is a strategy in place to allow for adaptive modication of the
target amount as new protected areas are acquired. The current
instructions for the nancial management company is to withdraw
one percent of the fund per quarter and deposit it into the TLC’s
general operations account. This simplies the assessment of
“Deciding how to
fund protected areas
management for the long
term is the next big step in
whether adequate return is being generated
because they can just compare fund income
with general operating expenses. TLC also
has a private land conservation strategy that
includes implementation of protective covenants as well as a land
purchase, protection, and resale program, but the management of
these temporary acquisitions is funded from dierent sources and
not related to the endowment fund
A strategy for the long term
Deciding how to fund protected areas management for the long
term is the next big step in conservation planning. Based on TLC’s
experience, we suggest a strategy for establishing an endowment
fund (Figure 1):
1. Estimate costs: Carefully estimate current annual management
costs for each protected area, including sta time, materials,
and overheads. Use existing knowledge, extrapolation from
similar protected areas, and expert opinion to generate the
best possible estimate of optimal management needs.
2. Establish an endowment: Establish an endowment that
has sucient principle and return to provide enough income
to cover the annual expenses for each protected area while
adjusting for ination. This may involve new fundraising
strategies to convince donors that such a fund is valuable.
3. Establish a process that takes into account change: Provide
a mechanism for adjusting the fund for risk and for changes
in management cost estimates over time. TLC indenties
shortfalls in spending and monitors for eectiveness of current
actions but other mechanisms are also possible.
4. Make sure ongoing management is covered: When a new
protected area is added to the network, also add an amount
to the fund that will generate adequate returns for its annual
These recommendations are an example of how one conservation
organization has approached the critical task of long term
organizational sustainability and protected areas management into
perpetuity. TLC has taken the proactive approach of establishing
a capital fund to allow the protected areas to provide their
conservation benets into the future without having to nd funds
annually from other sources.
More info: Gwen Iacona email@example.com
Page 6 Decision Point #87 - April 2015
Melinda is a researcher with the EDG and is based at the University
of Western Australia; Sarah works for the WA Department of Parks &
Wildlife; and Mark is with the Western Australian Museum. They represent
part of the diversity of SCTIG, a multi-actor group dedicated to the
conservation of invertebrates on Western Australia’s southern shores.
To be eective, species conservation should be collaborative. Ideally
this would involve multiple parties across land management agencies,
research institutions and the local community (see Decision Point #73
for stories on this theme). But how often are such groups formed,
particularly for invertebrates? Can’t think of any? Well you wouldn’t be
alone. Threatened invertebrates don’t get much press and even less
The fact is that multi-actor groups are rare for invertebrate
assemblages in Australia. Which is why we want to draw your
attention to the South Coast Threatened Invertebrates Group (SCTIG).
The ‘South Coast’ here belongs to Western Australia and this region is
part of the internationally recognised southwest Australia biodiversity
hotspot. SCTIG was set up back in 2001 and we’ve recently held our
17th meeting (the authors are all members of the group).
SCTIG was originally formed when the local land managers (now
the Department of Parks & Wildlife, or DPaW) realised they needed
the expertise from other groups if they were to have a hope of
managing the hyperdiverse assemblages of terrestrial and freshwater
invertebrates along the South Coast. Members of the group have
consisted of DPaW, the Western Australian Museum, the University
of Western Australia, the University of Melbourne, local NGO’s (such
as Gondwana Link; South Coast NRM; and the Western Australian
Speleological group), and the local community. What is noteworthy
about SCTIG is that the group is actually making headway into some
of the major hurdles involving invertebrate conservation; this in a
region facing multiple threatening processes. Here we outline what
SCTIG has achieved and reect on what it takes for a multi-actor group
to be successful.
The Linnaean Shortfall
A rst and obvious step is to work out exactly what you have in the
region. When it comes to invertebrates, unfortunately, this already
poses a major problem. Invertebrates are experiencing a taxonomic
bottleneck, with only a very small percentage of the fauna described
each year. It’s known as the Linnaean Shortfall (see Decision Point
#61, p6-8) and it relates to the fact that there is a general lack of
taxonomists for invertebrates, and the majority of invertebrate species
are under-represented in museums and other collections. Within the
South Coast, invertebrate taxonomy for numerous groups has been
kick-started by SCTIG.
Members are asked to collect especially hard-to-get invertebrates
that may only be present at certain times of the year, or in unusual
habitats. One recent example was a request earlier in 2014 by a SCTIG
researcher for the incredibly rare males of tiny Moggridgea trapdoor
spiders. One SCTIG ‘community’ member responded to the request
and found two males on tree trunks during a rainy night near Walpole.
SCTIG members may be asked to preserve the animals a certain way
or, in the case of land snails for example, ensure that they are kept
alive for molecular research. These samples are often invaluable to
taxonomists, saving them from expensive and potentially unfruitful
collecting trips. The taxonomy of some species has been driven by
land managers, who believe that the species or habitats are at risk and
By recognising what lives in the region and getting key species
described by taxonomists, the management of these species can
The Wallacean Shortfall
After the taxonomy is resolved, the next step is to work out where
these critters occur, or perhaps to substantiate expectations that
they really are restricted species. The Wallacean Shortfall is the
general lack of knowledge on the biogeographic patterns for
invertebrates which inhibits identication of restricted species
(see Decision Point #61, p6-8).
The SCTIG has tackled this issue in two ways. First, groups suspected of
being geographically restricted were targeted by members whenever
the opportunity arose, and passed on to SCTIG specialists in the WA
Second, SCTIG found funds to model likely refugial habitat across
the South Coast. Targeted surveys of these potential refugia were
subsequently formulated, often through collaborations. For example,
after consultation with members of SCTIG, the NGO South Coast
Natural Resource Management group funded intensive surveys of the
terrestrial short-range endemic invertebrates of the South Coast in
2006-2007. These intensive surveys resulted in detailed maps of 174
terrestrial species and an analysis of the endemicity and biogeography
of millipedes in the region.
Gaining a solid understanding of the biogeography of species enables
identication of potentially threatened invertebrates, and increases
the likelihood of getting these successfully listed on the State’s
threatened species list.
Policy and research
SCTIG has led the way in formulating invertebrate conservation listings
and management plans. Prior to SCTIG, there were 3 invertebrates on
the State Government threatened species list for the region (2 spiders
and a snail). With impetus from the group, 26 additional species have
been added as threatened (17 millipedes, 5 spiders and 4 insects). And
SCTIG has been proactive in writing management plans, including the
Stirling Range National Park Management Plan for invertebrates.
SCTIG has also fostered research collaborations and knowledge
sharing which in turn benets the invertebrates. Land managers such
“SCTIG has led the way in formulating
invertebrate conservation listings and
The benefits of multi-actor invertebrate management
A partnership to conserve invertebrates in WA’s far south
By Melinda Moir, Sarah Comer & Mark Harvey
The November 2014 meeting of the South Coast Threatened Invertebrates
Group. Over the years SCTIG has made a real dierence to the conservation of
invertebrates in Western Australia. (Photo by Melinda Moir)
Decision Point #87 - April 2015 Page 7
as DPaW ocers often have access to dicult-to-reach sites, including
those aected by disturbances such as re, weeds and plant diseases
(eg, Phytophtora dieback, aerial canker, myrtle rust, etc). They can
relay important observations to specialist researchers, such as mass
invertebrate death, the presence of invasive invertebrates, or damage
to habitat by disturbances.
The researchers may then visit the site, facilitated by the land managers
(occasionally this involves exciting transport such as helicopters!).
Alternatively, the annual SCTIG meeting may be held nearby to
facilitate a eld trip to the location. From these interactions, adaptive
management of invertebrates is being driven. For example, the eects
of re on conservation-listed pill millipedes was initially thought to
be a threatening process. However, subsequent observations after
burns have allowed us to begin to understand that the millipedes
can survive certain res. The impact of multiple res, dierent re
intensities, and the timing of re (eg, larger impacts may be evident
with res occurring when millipedes emerge from hibernation), is
currently unknown and may require structured research (any re
This close, on-going collaboration between members of SCTIG
has facilitated timely adaptive management for numerous native
invertebrates, as well as the relatively quick identication of the arrival
of invasive species.
The fruits of collaboration
Conserving this huge proportion of the world’s biodiversity is a
monumental task. But rather than be overwhelmed, SCTIG has faced
the problem head-on and, after 13 years, the group is making a
dierence. Our 2014 annual meeting was one of the largest meetings
to date and featured land-managers from outside the South Coast
region who are interested in invertebrate conservation within their
SCTIG has demonstrated that the keys to successful collaboration
are common goals, plus the tenacity and perseverance of a few key
people within dierent organisations. Annual meetings help to
focus members on agreed actions and outcomes, provide access to
expertise, update everyone on the progress of research, and keep
members informed of policy changes, management plans, changes
in management regimes or other issues aecting invertebrate
Successful collaboration results in many and varied rewards: land
managers benet from an accessible knowledge pool and researchers
benet through the collaboration with publications and outreach
Dozens of multi-coloured native millipede species have been found
in the South Coast region to date, including pink-headed (a), blue (b)
and tiger millipedes (c). SCTIG has helped document the spread of the
introduced Portuguese millipede (d) throughout the southwest though
at this stage it is unknown whether this invader will adversely impact on
the natives. Groups like SCTIG help to ensure that such invasions don’t
go unrecorded and help in raising awareness and generating public
debate. (Photos by Melinda Moir except photo (b) which is by Mark
Why inverts and why the South Coast?
Terrestrial invertebrates are believed to represent a whopping 78%
of macro-biodiversity (vertebrates represent less than 3%) and the
south-west Australian biodiversity hotspot is believed contain a
large assemblage of largely undescribed invertebrate taxa. We know
this region contains many very rare vertebrates such as Gilbert’s
potoroo and the western ground parrot; and plants such as Banksia
montana. And we know that the majority of threatening processes
aecting vertebrates and plants (such as fragmentation, dieback
disease and climate change) are also highly likely to be impacting
the invertebrates. What’s more, the region possesses large numbers
of short-range endemic invertebrate species (ie, 65% of 174
species accessed by Framenau et al. 2008 in the region). Given their
restricted distribution and poor dispersal potential, such species are
more susceptible to extinction.
Framenau VW, ML Moir & MS Harvey (2008). Terrestrial Invertebrates
of the south coast region of Western Australia: Short-range
endemics in Gondwanan relictual habitats. WA Museum, Perth.
The recently named Maratus sarahae, which will be nominated for State
conservation listing this year. (Photo by Jürgen Otto)
activities. As an added incentive, members have been regularly
recognised for their eorts in invertebrate conservation through
researchers naming species in members’ honour (11 species to date).
Finally, meetings held in the South Coast region are always concluded
with a eld trip. Not only do these provide specimens for study and
greater local knowledge, they also serve as enjoyable bonding
exercises that allow members to get to know each other outside of
the meeting room. Each of us have enjoyed the many meetings that
we have attended over the years, and hope that other regions around
Australia take the initiative to form similar successful collaborative
networks to conserve their own invertebrates.
More info: Melinda Moir firstname.lastname@example.org
Page 8 Decision Point #87 - April 2015
By Paul Armsworth (University of Tennessee, Knoxville, USA)
Children understand trade-os. Ask them if they would like to have
more chocolate cake and more candy, and it’s a no-brainer. However,
ask them if they would like more chocolate cake or more candy and
they could deliberate for some time. Conservation decision-making
is the same. Asked if we would like to protect two beautiful habitats
rich in biodiversity and ecosystem services and the answer is easy.
But if we can protect only one and must choose between the two
places, then it all gets much harder. We have to choose because we
don’t always have enough resources to do both. The dierent costs
of the two actions will obviously inuence our decision. But just
how good are we at evaluating those costs?
Over the last 15-20 years, conservation scientists have made great
strides at adapting decision-support tools to account for the
costs of dierent conservation options. For example, the spatial
prioritization software Marxan allows users to assign dierent
conservation costs to dierent bits of the landscape (see Decision
Point #62, p12,13). However, somewhere in the rush to develop
theoretical tools to handle cost data, empirical eorts to estimate
conservation costs have lagged behind.
Recently, I undertook a review of the cost estimates that were
being used in conservation planning studies (Armsworth 2014). I
focused on costs of establishing and managing terrestrial protected
areas. Studies ranged from global to local in extent and the spatial
resolution of the cost data being used was extremely variable.
The lowest cost that authors often assumed is that conservation
would cost nothing in some locations. The upper bound could be
in the range of an eye-watering $10,000 to $60,000 per hectare
(Australian dollars in 2014). However, the studies in question relied
on very dierent ways of getting these cost estimates and the values
they report are inuenced by the estimation method used. For
example, all of the studies focus on some components of the costs
of establishing and managing protected areas only in the hopes
that these will reect spatial patterns in the overall costs that would
come into play. Many of the seemingly ‘free’ conservation areas that
authors were incorporating would bring with them signicant cost
burdens when more components of overall costs were included.
The conclusions that I drew from the review were just what you
might expect from a dour Scotsman. To account for costs in
conservation planning, we are going to need:
1. better estimates of conservation costs,
2. better reporting of cost estimates,
3. better analysis of those estimates and
4. greater criticality about how we incorporate those
estimates into conservation planning tools.
“In the rush to develop theoretical tools
to handle cost data, empirical efforts to
estimate conservation costs have lagged
Natural values can come with a signicant ongoing management
cost. The extremely high (up to 50 species per square meter) plant
species richness in the longleaf pine savanna ecosystem depends on
re reoccurring within the system every one to three years. The Garcon
Point Preserve in north Florida, pictured here, is managed intensively
with prescribed re in order to sustain the re-adapted species such as
these carnivorous pitcher plants. (Photo by Gwen Iacona)
A little empirical truth to help ground the theory
The costs of conservation
Decision Point #87 - April 2015 Page 9
For example, when relying on proxies for conservation costs,
we need those proxies to preserve the variance in cost data and
patterns of association between costs of conservation and data on
biodiversity benets. Yet, when I compared the most commonly
used proxies (eg, average agricultural land value nearby) to the
actual costs of establishing protected areas, these basic standards
were not met. Also, many authors estimate one cost component
(eg, acquisition costs) and assume that the patterns it contains
adequately reect what they would nd if including other cost
components (eg, ongoing stewardship costs associated with
managing a site). But, when testing the merits of this assumption,
again I found it sometimes performed poorly.
Practitioners of course know all about the costs of doing
conservation, routinely account for them in conservation decision-
making and have done so for decades. However, this often seems
to be done o-line of some larger scale conservation planning
initiative, after broad priority regions have been identied and
when scaling down to decide just which parcels of land within those
regions to target. Moreover, when I have explored the methods that
dierent conservation organizations use to project the future cost
burden associated with protecting dierent parcels, I have observed
a lot of variability in how dierent individuals and organizations do
it. And, sometimes, practitioners’ intuition does not resonate with
what we see when we look at the data.
The principle that accounting for dierences in costs of dierent
conservation options would greatly increase the eectiveness of
budget-limited conservation plans is well-established, and the
conservation planning community now commonly casts their
recommendations in terms of the “return-on-investment” oered by
investing in dierent projects (for example, consider David Pannell’s
approach to ranking environmental projects, see Decision Point
#75, p4,5). However, somewhere along the way the conservation
planning mantra that “some cost data are better than no cost data”
seems to have slipped into “any old cost data will do”.
Just as conservation planning has learned the importance of
being critical about the biodiversity data being used (eg, how
representative are indicator taxa of wider biodiversity trends we
care about? or how were the data collected and are there inherent
biases – eg, sampling bias – we need to worry about?), we now need
a similar maturity in how we think about data on conservation costs,
where many similar considerations apply about data quality.
More info: Paul Armsworth email@example.com
Armsworth PR (2014). Inclusion of costs in conservation planning
depends on limited datasets and hopeful assumptions. Annals
of the New York Academy of Sciences. doi: 10.1111/nyas.12455
Note: This guest editorial was written by Dr Paul Armsworth, an
Associate Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the
University of Tennessee, Knoxville, USA. Paul has collaborated with
many of EDG’s researchers over the years and Gwen Iacona (see page
4) was Paul’s student before joining the EDG last year. We hope to bring
you more international perspectives on environmental decision science
Variable management costs
The cost of managing protected areas can vary from little to very
large so it’s important our assumptions on what real management
costs into the future will be are based on solid evidence. For
example, compare the two protected areas below, both managed
by the same organization, The Nature Conservancy (TNC).
Below left: Managers of TNC’s Brush Mountain Preserve in
Pennsylvania, have fenced sections of the preserve to exclude deer
and allow for oak regeneration. Fencing like this can cost a small
fortune. In addition, there has been extensive thinning of early
successional trees, and a prescribed burn is planned to promote
the historic forest type that was dominated by oaks and pines.
The ploughed section in the foreground of the photograph is a
rebreak for the upcoming burn.
Below right: In contrast, many remote mountain protected
areas receive very little management eort. For example, TNC’s
conservation objective for the Tally Preserve (below right), is to
promote forest intactness within the northern Cumberlands region
of Tennessee. The only management that occurs on this preserve
was boundary marking and annual visits for ecological inventory.
(Photos by Eric Larson)
Page 10 Decision Point #87 - April 2015
Long-term biological monitoring data are becoming increasingly
available to inform conservation eorts around the world. These
data are rich sources of scientic evidence that oer insights
into the natural variability of ecosystems and species through
time, as well as revealing information about the eectiveness of
conservation eorts. However, there are many occasions where
long-term monitoring data, like other forms of scientic evidence,
have been of little use to conservation management. So, how are
we going in Australia when it comes to using long-term monitoring
data to inform management decisions? You often hear that
conservation management agencies fail to use scientic evidence
to inform management but our investigation suggests this is not
the case – though there is room for improvement.
We recently explored how long-term biological monitoring data
are used to inform the management of Australian marine protected
areas (MPAs). We focussed on long-term monitoring programs
from Australian MPAs, as these include some of the world’s longest
running marine monitoring programs. Part of their value is the
contribution they make to our understanding of the biological
eects of MPAs. They also generate rich data sources that are
available to inform the ongoing management of MPAs.
Are we missing the boat?
Using long-term monitoring data in managing marine protected areas
By Prue Addison (Australian Institute of Marine Science) and Carly Cook (Monash University)
“The first goal of MEE (to enable environmental
accountability and reporting) is being achieved,
but the second goal of facilitating evidence-based
management is not.”
We conducted interviews with MPA managers and scientists
from Australian management agencies to document a national
perspective of how long-term biological monitoring data are
used to inform evidence-based management of Australian MPAs
(Addison et al., 2015).
We asked MPA managers and scientists about seven long-term
biological monitoring programs that occur within ve networks
of MPAs in Australian state and Commonwealth waters. These
MPAs are some of the oldest in Australia having been established
for an average of 20.3 years (ranging from 11 to 39 years) and
have some of longest running monitoring programs, undertaken
for an average of 18.7 years (ranging from 12 to 27 years, with
some commencing before the MPA was established). All of the
MEE in MPAs
Management eectiveness evaluation (MEE) has gained global
recognition as an important framework to promote the continual
improvement of conservation eorts in protected areas. It
involves an assessment of the complete management process:
beginning with clearly dening the management context, through
to measuring conservation outcomes to determine whether
management objectives are being achieved (see Figure 1).
In response to the growing societal demand for environmental
accountability, there is a focus on publicly reporting MEE results
to demonstrate the value for money of conservation eorts.
But, ultimately, MEE is designed to facilitate evidence-based
management to ensure the best conservation outcomes for
MEE should draw on the best available evidence, using both
qualitative and quantitative data to support assessments.
Whilst qualitative data are most appropriate for some aspects of
management (eg, measuring stakeholder engagement), other
aspects (eg, measuring ecological condition) should ideally be
based on quantitative data sourced from monitoring or research. A
lack of quantitative data often necessitates reliance on qualitative
information, such as expert judgment, in MEE.
Outcome assessment is the nal stage of MEE, where the condition
of important environmental attributes is assessed to determine
whether management objectives have been achieved or if
management should be adapted. This requires an assessment of
the condition of indicators, such as the abundance of a threatened
When monitoring data are available, these should be assessed
against condition categories that have been dened numerically.
Quantitative condition categories are commonly based on an
acceptable range of natural variation of an indicator. For example,
the United States National Parks Service uses historic long-term
monitoring data to dene quantitative condition categories for
average forest patch size to reect landscape fragmentation due to
anthropogenic stressors, as: Good (>50 ha); Caution (10–50 ha); and
Signicant Concern (<10 ha). Quantitative condition assessments
can enable more transparent and repeatable integration of
monitoring data into MEE, and when condition categories represent
thresholds that trigger management action promotes evidence-
based management. In addition, condition rating scales can help
simplify complex information about natural systems for public
Figure 1: The management eectiveness evaluation cycle. The cycle
is designed to enable an assessment of the complete management
process and facilitate evidence-based management.
(Adapted from Hocking et al., 2006)
Decision Point #87 - April 2015 Page 11
monitoring programs involved sampling both inside and outside of
no-take zones, and occur in either a single MPA or are replicated in
several MPAs across a network.
As with protected area management agencies around the globe,
Australian agencies responsible for managing MPAs commonly use
management eectiveness evaluation (MEE) to better understand,
learn from and improve conservation outcomes (see the box
on MEE in MPAs). These evaluations are being used to judge the
eectiveness of management in many Australian MPAs, however
this process is in its infancy, with only one or two evaluation cycles
having occurred in most cases.
Our research revealed that many long-term biological monitoring
programs are used to inform qualitative condition assessments of
biological indicators (under the ‘outcomes’ stage of a MEE cycle),
where published monitoring results are interpreted using expert
judgment in most cases. This means that available quantitative
biological monitoring data are not yet used to provide maximum
value in formal quantitative condition assessments for MEE.
While not yet fully utilized in MEE, we found substantial evidence
that long-term monitoring data are informing the evidence-based
management of MPAs (Figure 2) – contrary to the common criticism
that conservation management agencies fail to use scientic
evidence to inform management.
Many management agencies use monitoring results to justify the
continued need for scientic research and monitoring in MPAs to
resolve key uncertainties and identied knowledge gaps. Long-
term monitoring results have also been valuable in supporting
planning decisions, such as re-zoning MPAs based on an improved
understanding of the distribution of marine habitats. Long-
term monitoring results have also informed a variety of routine
management decisions, such as the development of educational
programs, compliance eorts, introduced species control and
infrastructure development in MPAs.
Despite the goal of MEEs to enable evidence-based management
of protected areas, we found that MEE is rarely the only mechanism
that facilitates the knowledge transfer of science to management
action. ‘Closing the loop’ of MEE to ensure evidence-based
management remains a challenge for many management agencies
around the globe.
How might we meet this challenge? In our paper, we provide
several recommendations on how to improve the use of long-term
monitoring data in MEE for evidence-based management. These
• Ensuring internal MEE frameworks reect MEE theory,
to determine where breaks in the information chain may be
preventing the use of monitoring data in evidence-based
• Implementing quantitative condition assessment of long-
term monitoring data to ensure more objective, repeatable
and transparent use of monitoring data in MEE.
• Invest in targeted long-term monitoring to support
• Increase the frequency of evaluation to ensure MEE enables
On this last point, a shorter evaluation timeframe, more frequent
than the common 5–10 year cycle, should improve the alignment
of MEE with evidence-based management. More frequent in-house
evaluation will ensure evidence-based management becomes
the main driver of MEE, rather than public accountability through
associated public reporting.
During our interviews, most informants indicated a willingness to
move towards using monitoring results in quantitative condition
assessment and to forge a stronger link between MEE and
evidence-based management. All of which bodes well for the
future of our unique network of marine protected areas.
More info: Prue Addison firstname.lastname@example.org;
Note: This research was part of Prue Addison’s PhD at the University of
Melbourne. She is now a postdoc at AIMS.
Hockings M, S Stolton, F Leverington, N Dudley & J. Courrau (2006).
Evaluating Eectiveness: a Framework for Assessing Management
Eectiveness of Protected Areas (second ed.)IUCN, Gland,
Switzerland/Cambridge, UK (2006), p. 105.
Addison PFE, LB Flander & CN Cook (2015). Are we missing the boat?
Current uses of long-term biological monitoring data in the
evaluation and management of marine protected areas. Journal
of Environmental Management 149: 148-156.
Australia’s marine protected areas (MPAs) are established for
biodiversity conservation and many were gazetted more than ten
years ago. These MPAs fall under either state or federal jurisdiction
and all management agencies aspire to regularly monitor, evaluate
and report on their management eectiveness. Like other parts
of the world, long-term monitoring programs in Australian MPAs
predominantly assess the eect of protection on subtidal coral and
rocky reef communities.
Figure 2: Management decisions made in Australian MPAs in response
to the seven long-term biological monitoring programs. The dierent
colours represent dierent monitoring programs (de-identied to avoid
Monitoring in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
(Photo by Juergen Freund, AIMS)
Page 12 Decision Point #87 - April 2015
There are many tactics and approaches to consider when seeking to
create signicant conservation outcomes but before I get into those I
think it’s important to mention passion.
Big wins don’t come without a campaign by people passionate about
the result. Full stop. Conservation has only ever progressed because
NGOs and community groups put public pressure on decision makers.
Consider the Franklin Dam campaign, saving the Reef from oil rigs, and
protecting Fraser Island. Sure, each of those historic decisions involved
key political decision makers making the critical decisions, and maybe
enacting laws to achieve it, but behind each such decision there was a
campaign by people passionate about those causes.
A news columnist observed that the recent dumping of the
Queensland Premier and government shows “that muscular, pro-
development posturing has lost its appeal with voters.” But that didn’t
happen in a vacuum. The Fight for the Reef campaign made dumping
of dredge spoil in Reef waters something every politician had to do
something about, and voters judged them harshly if they thought
they weren’t doing enough.
Recipe for success
A recipe for success in inuencing policy includes a) a clear problem
statement; b) a clear target; c) a clear ‘ask’, the solution we are asking
the target to implement; and d) eective campaigning to give the
target a good reason for adopting the ask. More about d) later.
Sometimes the ‘ask’ is a law, sometimes money, sometimes withdrawal
of support. For example: a) land clearing is killing millions of native
animals every year, and therefore b) the state government needs to c)
legislate a ban on land clearing. A poorly identied, vaguely specied
problem, target or solution is not a recipe for success.
The target is not necessarily a government. Recently, a tiny burst of
adverse media over a violent video game was enough for the target
(the department store Target, in that instance) to remove the game
from their stores. Pressure exerted through the global 350 campaign
has caused some universities to stop investing their endowments in
Big wins in conservation: how do they come about?
How do conservation NGOs influence policy?
By Martin Taylor (Conservation Science Manager, WWF-Australia)
So, how do you get the target to want to adopt your proered
solution? It comes down to eective campaigning.
Campaigning is always about creating the space and setting the
stage for a decision maker to act using a combination of media and
A media campaign is usually indispensable to both demonstrate and
also stimulate public pressure. You may be surprised to learn that a
well-disposed government often wants the community to raise a stink
in the media about the issue of the day, to set the stage for it to ride in
on a white horse to widespread acclaim.
Good advocacy is never negative toward the target, only toward the
problem. It is usually pitched as “you can be a hero, if you do this one
Media is either ‘earned’ or ‘paid’. Earned media is generated from stunts
like giant melting polar bear shaped ice blocks, by issuing a new
analysis or report, or reacting to a decision like an approval of a coal
mine. Paid media requires the support of generous donors to pay for
ads on billboards, in newspapers, on TV or the internet.
At other times though, a friendly champion within government might
be able to deliver on the ask, but please… no media! A softly-softly
approach might be preferred to avoid stirring up opposition that is
currently asleep or looking elsewhere. Sometimes the opposition can
come from within the same government.
May the public be with you
The good news is that we don’t have to convince the public to love
nature and wildlife and support conservation. Poll after poll show
consistently very high – 90% plus – support for national parks and
conservation of nature and wildlife across party lines, age, ethnic,
Not sure why we keep polling on this anyway. It’s not like we are trying
to get the public to like eating worms. They are already on the side
of conservation. The campaigner’s task is to activate and focus that
already abundant goodwill and point it at the target.
But this doesn’t mean conservation issues will be top of mind when
it comes to a vote. At the ballot box, competence in economic
matters usually trumps all other considerations. Campaigners are on
a constant quest to cut through this barrier and turn their issue into
something that aects or at least appears to aect, decisions at the
ballot box, and therefore something that contending parties take very
seriously. A campaigner tries to mobilise the constituents with the
electorate of key decision makers to write in and express their support
for the campaign objectives or attend a forum in the electorate or turn
out for a public rally or other visible expression of support within that
Campaigners place intense focus around election time because that’s
when they can pressure the competing parties to dish up election
commitments. For example, in the recent Queensland election, in
response to relentless exposure in the media and by constituents
through the Fight for the Reef campaign, both major parties
committed signicant amounts of cash to protect the Reef from
harmful pollution. Both parties obviously became convinced by the
campaign that it was a ‘must have’ to win over the swinging voter.
A common campaign tactic is an election policy scorecard rating the
dierent parties on how well their promises on various policy areas
aligned with the campaign asks. Some delicacy is needed because a
scorecard looks a lot like a how-to-vote card. NGOs may risk losing tax
“Without the underpinning of research
well focussed on answering critical
questions, any campaign is at a loss.”
Everyone wants to inuence policy to protect those values they care
most about. However, everyone goes about ‘inuencing’ in dierent
ways. So far in this series on ‘inuencing policy’ we have heard from
a psychology researcher who suggests scientists need to better
engage with the conservative side of politics, and from a research
policy ocer who suggested inuencing policy requires a sustained
eort of figuring out the policy process (the who, what, where and
how) and treating the process like a journey. In this instalment we
hear a perspective from the world of non-government agencies
(NGOs), and specically NGOs seeking to create conservation policy
outcomes. Martin Taylor from WWF-Australia is our speaker. In
addition to talking about some of the tin tacks of how conservation
advocates achieve wins in conservation, Martin also shares his
perspective on the role of science in this game.
Decision Point #87 - April 2015 Page 13
exempt status by advocating for a political party. They can, however,
safely rate each party’s policies for alignment with their interests.
Scorecards aside, a hallmark of a successful conservation campaign is
that it enjoys bipartisan support.
It’s risky for a conservation issue to become ‘a political football’, that is,
tied into the political identity of one party, making it very dicult for
the other party to take up the cause, because it’s perceived to be in
conict with their political identity.
Conservation should be above politics. Conservation objectives
should be bipartisan. They should be based rmly in sound science.
Room for science?
Is there any room in this seemingly highly partisan space for objective,
dispassionate science, with NGOs determined to get their favoured
solution adopted? The answer is a denitive yes.
If it were not for the many decades of marine scientists studying the
Reef documenting its biodiversity and quantifying the threats posed
by overshing and pollution, NGOs wouldn’t have had any basis for
the campaigns: rst, to shut shing out of a third of the area a decade
ago; and, now, to try to get reductions in agricultural and industrial
A campaign that runs counter to scientic evidence is not necessarily
going to fail, but to succeed it will need a lot of cash and inuence
to overcome the weight of evidence. The fossil fuel industry’s global
campaign to sow doubt about climate science is a textbook example
of that. Any campaign always has to anticipate and deal with the
inevitable backlash from vested interests who are the cause of, or
who benet from the conservation problem. Again, there is a constant
demand for solid research to interrogate and unravel the myths,
disinformation and counterclaims that vested interests ght back
with. It’s no easy task.
A report card on Australia’s NRS
Here’s an example of one of our eorts to inuence conservation policy
in Australia. WWF’s Building Nature’s Safety Net is a regular report card on
Australia’s National Reserve System (NRS), the national mosaic of over 10,000
discrete protected areas on land on all tenures: government, Indigenous and
private (including on-farm covenants), as well as marine parks and reserves.
The NRS is the single most important asset for the conservation of Australia’s
unique and globally signicant biodiversity. In successive Safety Net reports
we review progress toward agreed biodiversity targets, the state of nancing
for both expansion and maintenance of the reserve system and the gaps that
need to be lled to ensure Australian biodiversity is relatively secure.
The reports form the basis of an ongoing campaign to increase funding
for the National Reserve System
program, a federal grants
program, and matching budget
allocations in states in territories.
The most signicant success was
the announcement by former
Environment Minister Peter
Garrett of $180m allocation for
the program over the period
2008-2013. The announcement
came a few weeks after he
launched the 2008 Safety Net
report in Parliament House.
Unfortunately, the program was
cut by his successor in late 2012
and has yet to be restored.
The report pictured here is the
fourth in a series with the three
previous reports published in
2006, 2008 and 2011.
Eective conservation campaigns rely on close coordination
with scientists working in the area. Conservation science
is at the heart of the ongoing story about the problem
and the solution that’s needed to address it. Without the
underpinning of research well focussed on answering
critical questions, any campaign is at a loss.
Sometimes the critical questions have simple answers, often
just one number. For example, how many species have no
habitat inside a protected area? (see Decision Point #45, p4,5
for the answer!)
Beyond research papers, scientists can also write media
and opinion articles in the popular press that can assist in
a campaign. For example, in 2013 when a new Queensland
Government decided to undo the land clearing laws,
scientists throughout the state banded together to express
their concern that this was not a good idea. And again,
more recently, to express dismay with the resurgence of
land clearing that has resulted. This second commentary
appeared in the The Conversation. The Conversation is a
recent science media innovation of great potential benet
for conservation eorts because it allows scientists a direct
outlet for accessible, plain language explanations of their
No time for rest
A nal and sobering reality to face is that securing
conservation progress is an uphill and never-ending task.
Even a favourable government usually cannot deliver
everything that’s needed to address the enormous
conservation problems we face, with expanding human
impacts, declining wildlife and shrinking habitats. One has
to be pragmatic and “not let the perfect be the enemy of the
good”, giving credit to decision makers where credit is due.
Finally, you cannot take a win for granted, as we found with
land clearing laws. A change of government can undo years
of campaign work with the stroke of a pen. The only answer is to start
all over again, keep building or refreshing the science, keep making
the case, keep mobilising public opinion. The IPCC is a wonderful and
inspiring example of that at the global level. Take comfort that the
public is, most likely, already on your side.
More info: Martin Taylor MTaylor@wwf.org.au
Martin Taylor is WWF-Australia’s Protected Areas Policy Manager and
has published important analyses of the eectiveness of the Endangered
Species Act in the United States, threats to international whale habitats,
and the eectiveness of conservation actions in Australia including
protected areas for threatened species. He has served on the Scientic
Committee of the International Whaling Commission and as an NGO
observer at CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered
Species, Martin is pictured below at a CITES conference) . He is a member of
the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas.
Page 14 Decision Point #87 - April 2015
An example of the work that
incorporates climate change
scenarios into species distribution
modelling. The area of Tasmania
climatically suitable for the lowland
Themeda triandra (kangaroo grass)
community shown as the probability
of occurrence (a) under current
climate with known locations in
black and (b) by 2050 based on
agreement between 6 climate
Porrio LL, Harris RMB, Lefroy EC,
Hugh S, Gould SF, Lee G, Bindo NL
and Mackey B (2014). Improving the
Use of Species Distribution Models
in Conservation Planning and
Management under Climate Change
PLOS One 9(11): e113749. DOI:
Four years ago, the NERP Landscapes and Policy Hub (a sister hub to
NERP Environmental Decisions) set out to answer the question ‘How
do we take a regional-scale view of biodiversity?’ The trigger for this
question was the Hawke review of the Environment Protection and
Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999). One of the questions facing
the review was why, after 10 years of the Act being in operation,
had the list of threatened and endangered species grown steadily to
over 1,750 with precious few coming o that list. One of the review’s
recommendations was to consider biodiversity at the scale of
landscapes and whole regions as well as species and communities in
order to understand and manage the underlying causes of decline.
In consultation with the Department of the Environment, the
Landscapes and Policy Hub chose to apply a big picture view to two
regions, the Australian Alps and the Tasmanian Midlands. The choice
was partly because both regions were home to several listed plant
communities plus a whole suite of threatened and endangered
species, and partly because of their dierences. One a privately
owned valley, the other a publicly managed mountain range. One
largely intact but under threat from invasive species and more
frequent res. The other a highly fragmented landscape, the second
region to be farmed following European settlement.
The rst step in the research process was to take the 36 researchers in
a bus and visit the two regions. By talking to residents, land owners,
managers and local experts the researchers had the opportunity to
see the issues rst hand. They then went to work in seven research
Life at Large: taking the big picture
From the Australian Alps to the Tasmanian Midlands
By Ted Lefroy (Director, NERP Landscapes and Policy Hub)
“By talking to residents, land owners,
managers and local experts the
researchers had the opportunity to see
the issues first hand.”
Four things we learned
about regional scale assessment of biodiversity
1. Understand the social context. Building a social prole of a
region from ABS and other survey data provides a picture of who
lives there, what they do, what they value, their impact on natural
values and their capacity to support conservation given that
success will rely on local participation and commitment over the
2. Embrace a broad denition of natural values. At the regional
scale it’s necessary to include functional as well as compositional
attributes of biodiversity and natural values of local and cultural
signicance (see the biodiversity checklist under step 2 on the
3. Incorporate climate change scenarios into species
distribution modelling. To identify locations likely to be
important for conservation in the future, it’s necessary to consider
plausible shifts in the distributions of species, communities and
4. Represent results in ways that enable stakeholder
participation in decision making. For example, dynamic visual
methods can be used to represent scenarios for likely locations
of high value for species, communities and other iconic features
under dierent combinations of threatening processes.
teams specialising in social and institutional issues, climate change,
biogeography, economics, wildlife, re and freshwater ecology. An
eighth team, communication and integration, took on the task of
keeping the researchers in touch with each other and their wider
Every six months the researchers met to swap notes. In February
2015, they launched the website Life at Large to describe the six
step process that emerged from their case studies:
1. Describe the social context
2. Consult the biodiversity checklist
3. Develop regional scenarios
4. Map processes and threats
5. Model species and communities
6. Set priorities
If you’d like to learn more about what we did or explore the tools,
techniques and policy pathways that we have developed on our
journey, please visit our new website Life at Large.
More info: www.lifeatlarge.edu.au
Decision Point #87 - April 2015 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, email David.Salt@anu.edu.au
1. Regional Environmental Accounts Trial
This Wentworth Group report describes the application of an
environmental asset condition accounting method, called
Accounting for Nature, at a regional (sub-national) scale, based
on the ndings of a three year trial.
2. Threatened Spp Commissioner report to Minister
The Commissioner’s report on his rst six months in the job.
Fungimap uses information gathered by volunteer observers
across Australia, from professionals to amateurs, to map the
distribution of target species of Australian fungi.
4. Invasive herbivore control & GH gas emissions
According to a report from the Invasive Animals CRC,
controlling feral animals such as rabbits, goats and camels
could provide a cost-eective contribution to Australia’s
greenhouse gas emissions targets.
5. Assessing spp vulnerability to climate change.
The paper reviews key approaches to assessing species
vulnerability to climate change.
Pacici M. et al. (2015). Assessing species vulnerability to
climate change. Nature Climate Change 5, 215-224.
6. How to choose marine reserves
A short animation on systematic conservation planning for
marine reserve design from the University of Queensland. It’s
a great tool to explain the concepts and processes involved in
marine conservation planning.
7. Spatial priorities for carbon & threatened veg
The paper presents a continental analysis of spatial priorities for
sequestering carbon and restoring threatened vegetation types
across Australia under dierent carbon market conditions.
Carwardine J, Hawkins C, Polglase P, Possingham HP, Reeson A,
Renwick A, Watts M & TG Martin (2015). Spatial priorities for
restoring biodiverse carbon forests. Bioscience
Qualitative modelling workshoppers at work. (Five people in the
photo and not one looking at the camera or each other. Talk about
introspective brain power.) (Photo by Justine Shaw)
A NERP Workshop (Hobart, Oct 2014)
By Michael Bode & Justine Shaw
What is qualitative modelling and when would we do it?
Most conservation management problems involve decisions in
systems that are both complex and uncertain. In recent years,
dicult experience has taught us that unknown ecosystem
interactions can undermine, or even reverse the gains expected
from management interventions. High-prole examples include
the explosion of rabbit numbers on Macquarie Island following
the eradication of cats, and the decline of seabirds on the Little
Barrier Island in New Zealand, after rat numbers surged following
the eradication of cats. A set of techniques known as ‘qualitative
modelling’ oers decision-makers a chance to forecast some of these
negative outcomes before they happen, and to make decisions that
avoid complex, negative management outcomes.
Late last year, researchers interested in qualitative modelling from
the University of Queensland, the University of Melbourne, CSIRO, UC
Santa Barbara, Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) and the Institute
of Marine & Antarctic Science (University of Tasmania) met for three
days at the AAD headquarters in Kingston, Tasmania. Workshop
attendees shared their experience with applying qualitative
modelling to ecosystem conservation, reporting work that spanned
a broad range of research topics: Krill/sea ice interactions, shery
impacts on ocean ecosystems, invasive predator/prey interactions,
freshwater lake dynamics, island invasive species management, and
understanding threatened species interactions. Study ecosystems
ranged from Christmas Island, the islands of the sub-Antarctic,
Booderee National Park in Jervis Bay, the Southern Ocean, inshore
Tasmanian marine ecosystems, and California’s Santa Cruz Island.
Participants discussed the denition, history and evolution of
qualitative modeling, and its applications to modern ecological
research. People discussed their newly developed models and code.
Various limitations of qualitative models were also presented and
ways to address this into the future were discussed.
Of course there was the inevitable white board lled with lots
of code and network diagrams. There were ve PhD students
contributing, in addition to federal government senior research
scientist and university academics. It was a great opportunity for
colleagues to get together and further develop ongoing projects for
new collaborations to form.
More info: Michael Bode email@example.com
Page 16 Decision Point #87 - April 2015
The Environmental Decision Group (EDG) is a network of conservation
researchers working on the science of eective 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
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 identied in
the original papers on which the stories are based (references are
provided in each story). In terms of NERP ED, the research on long term
monitoring and management of MPAs (p10,11) was supported by NERP.
To contact the EDG please visit our websites at:
http://ceed.edu.au/ or http://www.nerpdecisions.edu.au/
Centre of Excellence
Biodiversity conservation and the NRS
Below is an excerpt from the WWF report, Building Nature’s Safety Net 2014.
It summarises the status of Australia’s National Reserve System (NRS) in terms
of percentage cover and protection aorded to ecosystems and threatened
species. Martin Taylor was the lead author of this report and he holds it up
as important output from WWF in their eort to inuence conservation
policy. You can see his story on page 12. Building Nature’s Safety Net 2014
is free and available at http://www.wwf.org.au/news_resources/resource_
Under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Australia has
committed to bringing at least 17 percent of terrestrial and at least 10
percent of marine areas into ecologically representative, well-connected
systems of protected areas by 2020 (Aichi Target 11).
Australia also has an agreed intergovernmental Strategy for developing a
comprehensive, adequate and representative National Reserve System on
land and sea that, if implemented, would deliver on this CBD target.
Due to dramatic recent growth, the National Reserve System covers 16.5
percent* of Australia’s land area, with highly protected areas, such as
national parks, covering 8.3 per cent. The marine National Reserve System
extends over one-third of Australian waters with highly protected areas
such as marine national parks, no-take or green zones covering 13.5 per
Growth has been uneven however, and the National Reserve System
is still far from meeting Aichi Target 11, which requires that it also be
ecologically representative and well-connected. On land, 1,655 of 5,815
ecosystems and habitats for 138 of 1,613 threatened species remain
unprotected. Nonetheless, 436 terrestrial ecosystems and 176 threatened
terrestrial species attained minimum standards of protection due to
growth of the National Reserve System on land between 2002 and 2012.
The gap for ecosystem protection on land – the area needed to bring all
ecosystems to the minimum standard of protection – closed by a very
substantial 20 million hectares (from 77 down to 57 million hectares)
between 2002 and 2012, not including threatened species protection
gaps. Threatened species attaining a minimum standard for habitat
protection increased from 27 percent to 38 percent over the decade
2002–2012. A low proportion of critically endangered species meeting
the standard (29 percent) and the high proportion with no protection at
all (20 percent) are cause for concern, but one which should be relatively
easy to amend, as the distributions of these species tend to be small and
Protected area connectivity has increased modestly for terrestrial
protected areas in terms of the median distance between neighbouring
protected areas, but this progress has been undermined by increasing
land use intensity in landscapes between protected areas.
A comprehensive, adequate and representative marine reserve system,
which meets a standard of 15 percent of each of 2,420 marine ecosystems
and 30 percent of the habitats of each of 177 marine species of national
environmental signicance, would require expansion of marine national
parks, no-take or green zones up to nearly 30 percent of state and
Australian waters, not substantially dierent in overall extent from that of
the current marine reserve system, but dierent in conguration.
Protection of climate change refugia, connectivity and special places for
biodiversity is still low and requires high priority attention.
*Note the latest gures for the National Reserve System can be found at