International Day of Biological Diversity: Celebrating the great research from the Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science

Happy International Day of Biological Diversity! I am a lucky conservation scientist who is working at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science at the University of Oxford. I spend a lot of time working with business and government decision-makers to help them understand and manage environmental impacts, by using conservation science. This is all done with my ultimate aim of helping to balance sustainable development with the conservation of biodiversity.

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ICCS members and colleagues at the 2016 Interdisciplinary Conservation Network workshop at the University of Oxford. Including featured authors: Sam Lloyd, Joe Bull, and E.J. Milner-Gulland.

To celebrate International day of Biological Diversity, I thought I’d highlight some of the amazing ICCS research that focuses on dealing with uncertainty in understanding and managing nature. These are just a few papers from this year that I think are critically relevant to ongoing work to conserve biodiversity:

E.J. Milner-Gulland: embracing uncertainty in environmental monitoring and management

E.J. and Katriona Shea recently provided a great commentary on how applied ecologists and conservation scientists can and should embrace uncertainty. They used some neat conservation examples from around the world to illustrate some of the common traps that applied ecologists can fall into. These include ignoring uncertainty all together, putting too much faith in their models, and failing to set clear objectives for monitoring and management. To overcome these uncertainty traps they point to a range of practical approaches to help practitioners, such as: using decision theory to frame the purpose of ecological monitoring and management more carefully, using virtual experiments to explore critical uncertainties prior to undertaking monitoring and management, and using a wider suite of models that account for uncertainty.

This paper is really relevant for conservation scientists developing models and helping support conservation decision-making. You can read their paper here.

Mike Burgass: navigating uncertainty in composite indicators

Mike and his co-authors (Ben Halpern, Emily Nicholson, and E.J. Milner-Gulland) undertook a comprehensive review of the use of composite indicators that are used to measure and track environmental systems (just like the Ocean Health Index, which is used to measure how healthy our oceans are around the world). They illustrated how uncertainty can creep into composite indicators in many different ways. There is the uncertainty associated with the monitoring data used to inform an indicator value, the construction of composite indicators (aggregating lots of individual indicators), and in post-development in the way that composite indicators are communicated. They provide a suite of solutions to help address uncertainty in composite indicators to ensure they can be used more confidently in environmental management.

This paper is really relevant for conservation scientists developing composite indicators for applied purposes. This is also incredibly relevant to businesses seeking to develop biodiversity metrics, which will often end up being a composite metric of multiple attributes of biodiversity (e.g., combining species and ecosystem information). You can read their paper here.

Joe Bull and Sam Lloyd: uncertainty and multipliers in sustainable development

In the world of sustainable development, goals like ‘no net loss’ and ‘net gain’ of biodiversity are being set to ensure that biodiversity losses from development are compensated with gains through the application of the mitigation hierarchy. To deal with uncertainty (e.g., in natural systems, and the data and models used to estimate biodiversity gains and losses), multipliers are used in the calculation of biodiversity mitigation measures. The more uncertain the ecological outcome, the greater the multiplier, and thus the greater the mitigation measure should be. In their review paper, Joe, Sam and their colleague Neils Strange explore the gap that exists between the theory of how multipliers should be used and what the reality is in practice. Multiplier values should theoretically be set at the tens or hundreds when considering ecological uncertainties. But multipliers used in offset and biodiversity policies and projects around the world are often less than ten. Joe and his colleagues recommend that there will be many occasions where larger multipliers should be used in practice, and these relate not only to ecological considerations, but also social, ethical and governance considerations.

This paper is relevant to all businesses considering commitments like ‘no net loss’ and ‘net gain’ of biodiversity, as it explains how uncertainty in natural systems is commonly underestimated. If uncertainty is not addressed systematically by practitioners and businesses implementing biodiversity ‘no net loss’ and ‘net gain’ projects then there will be a substantial undermining of biodiversity conservation efforts globally. You can read their paper here.

Papers cited in this blog:

Bull, J.W., Lloyd, S.P., Strange, N. (2017) Implementation gap between the theory and practice of biodiversity offset multipliers. Conservation Letters, DOI: 10.1111/conl.12335

Burgass, M., Halpern, B., Nicholson, E., Milner-Gulland, E.J. (2017) Exposing and navigating uncertainty in composite indicators. Ecological Indicators, 75, 268-278

Milner-Gulland, E. J. and Shea, K. (2017), Embracing uncertainty in applied ecology. Journal of Applied Ecology. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.12887

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What needs to change to undertake quantitative assessment of biodiversity outcomes in protected areas

I am very happy to announce the final paper from my PhD has now been published!

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Here is a brief outline of the paper:

Protected area management effectiveness (PAME) evaluation is increasingly undertaken to evaluate governance, assess conservation outcomes and inform evidence-based management of protected areas (PAs). Within PAME, quantitative approaches to assess biodiversity outcomes are now emerging, where biological monitoring data are directly assessed against quantitative (numerically defined) condition categories (termed quantitative condition assessments). However, more commonly qualitative condition assessments are employed in PAME, which use descriptive condition categories and are evaluated largely with expert judgement that can be subject to a range of biases, such as linguistic uncertainty and overconfidence.

Despite the benefits of increased transparency and repeatability of evaluations, quantitative condition assessments are rarely used in PAME. To understand why, we interviewed practitioners from all Australian marine protected area (MPA) networks, which have access to long-term biological monitoring data and are developing or conducting PAME evaluations.

Our research revealed that there is a desire within management agencies to implement quantitative condition assessment of biodiversity outcomes in Australian MPAs. However, practitioners report many challenges in transitioning from undertaking qualitative to quantitative condition assessments of biodiversity outcomes, which are hampering progress. Challenges include a lack of agency capacity (staff numbers and money), knowledge gaps, and diminishing public and political support for PAs. We point to opportunities to target strategies that will assist agencies overcome these challenges, including new decision support tools, approaches to better finance conservation efforts, and to promote more management relevant science.

Please follow this open access link to access this paper: authors.elsevier.com/a/1Uyhw14Z6tTFRO

If you’d like to see some of my other PhD research, please click the links below:

Addison P.F.E., Flander L.B., Cook C.N. (2017) Towards quantitative condition assessment of biodiversity outcomes: insights from Australian marine protected areas. Journal of Environmental Management. 198, 183–191.

Addison, P.F.E., Flander, L. B., Cook, C.N. (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.

Addison, P.F.E, de Bie, K., Rumpff, L. (2015) Setting conservation management thresholds using a novel participatory modelling approach. Conservation Biology, 29, 1411–1422.

Addison, P. F. E., Rumpff, L., Bau, S. S., Carey, J. M., Chee, Y. E., Jarrad, F., McBride, M. F., and Burgman, M. A. (2013). Practical solutions for making models indispensable in conservation decision-making. Diversity and Distributions. Special issue on: Perspectives and tools for conservation risk analysis.  19, 490–502.

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Insights from conservation practitioners on decision triggers for evidence-based management

Many conservation organisations are striving to undertake evidence-based management to help guide effective management of natural systems. This is where the best available evidence, like ecological research or monitoring data, are used to support management decisions. An important feature of evidence-based management is that it can assist conservation practitioners in making often difficult decisions about when to intervene in a system to prevent undesirable changes.

Decision triggers are one approach that can be useful to help link monitoring data with management decisions. Decision triggers represent a point or zone in the status of a monitored variable indicating when management intervention is required to address undesirable ecosystem changes (Figure 1).

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Figure 1: Decision triggers (horizontal dashed lines) representing a target for management intervention.

Decision triggers have received increasing attention from the scientific community, who have suggested that they facilitate more proactive and transparent management of ecosystems. However, there has been little consideration of whether practitioners in management organisations support the adoption of, or even use of decision triggers in practice.

In a recent paper in the Journal of Applied Ecology, my co-authors (Carly Cook and Kelly de Bie) and I share the perspectives of conservation practitioners from protected area management organisations in Australia and New Zealand, on the progress towards using of decision triggers for protected area management. I presented this research in a webinar hosted by CIEEM and the Journal of Applied Ecology, which you can check out here:

We are currently developing detailed guidance to provide practitioners with a clear understanding of how to integrate decision triggers within their organisations’ frameworks. This approach will be tested through a series of case studies to illustrate how decision triggers can be applied to managing species, ecosystems and threatening processes. If you would like to find out more about our upcoming research, and a PhD opportunity within this research programme, please contact Carly Cook.

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“The future of corporate biodiversity accounting and disclosure” at the Conservation Optimism Summit, 10.00–11.30am, 21 April 2017, London

You are invited to join the interactive panel discussion and Q&A session, where panelist will share current ideas and best-practice, and debate the future direction of business’ contribution to the conservation of biodiversity.

Corporate biodiversity session promotion

Please pass on the session flyer to anyone who may be interested.

Session details and full list of panelists can be found here

Please register to attend the summit here

For more information please contact Prue Addison

 

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Early career research & conservation impact

I recently wrote a blog on the ICCS research website about early career research & conservation impact. This was inspired by my current work as a NERC Knowledge Exchange fellow, my passion for working in the knowledge exchange space and applying conservation science to achieve real impact. In my blog I point out some handy online resources that will help early career researchers get started on their own pathway to research impact. You can read the full blog here.

Research Councils UK Pathways to Impact

Knowledge Exchange – creating a pathway to impact (source: Research Councils UK word cloud of Pathways to Impact)

 

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New insights from conservation practitioners on decision triggers for evidence-based management of natural systems

Many conservation organisations are striving to undertake evidence-based management to help guide effective management of natural systems. This is where the best available evidence, like ecological research or monitoring data, are used to support management decisions. An important feature of evidence-based management is that it can assist conservation practitioners in making often difficult decisions about when to intervene in a system to prevent undesirable changes.

Decision triggers represent a point or zone in the status of a monitored variable indicating when management intervention is required to address undesirable ecosystem changes (Figure 1).

Figure 1_final

Figure 1: Decision triggers (horizontal dashed lines) representing a target for management intervention.

Decision triggers have received increasing attention from the scientific community, who have suggested that they facilitate more proactive and transparent management of ecosystems (see our paper in Biological Conservation for these academic perspectives). From a management perspective, decision triggers offer conservation practitioners greater clarity about when and where to intervene in a system. However, there has been little consideration of whether practitioners in management organisations support the adoption of, or even use of decision triggers in practice.

In our recent paper in the Journal of Applied Ecology, we share the perspectives of conservation practitioners from protected area management organisations in Australia and New Zealand, on the progress towards using of decision triggers for protected area management.

It turns out that there are a wide range of organisational motivations for developing and using decision triggers, which go well beyond the desire to prevent negative conservation outcomes (Figure 2). Other important motivations for developing and using decision triggers include: supporting decision-making by providing clarity about when and how to act, improving transparency of organizational decisions, removing the need for guess work, and guarding against the paralysing effects of uncertainty.

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Figure 2: The motivations for organisations developing and using decision triggers, ordered from most to least frequently cited by the Australian and New Zealand organisations.

Support for a decision triggers approach has manifested as ad hoc examples, but only for well-understood threats or controversial management issues. For example, to manage significant threats to biodiversity (e.g., fire or invasive species management), setting quotas for harvesting or controlling native species, and determining when to remove threatened populations from the wild.

The practitioners in our study shared their views on the operational barriers (issues within the organisations) and scientific knowledge gaps (lack of knowledge or techniques) impeding the development and implementation of decision triggers. Practitioners revealed that most organisations are facing similar challenges (e.g., insufficient resources and the lack of a process and methods for developing decision triggers across different contexts), which is hampering the routine use of decision triggers. Gaps in our scientific understanding were also seen as a major issue impeding the adoption of decision trigger (e.g., uncertainties around ecological processes, and a lack of targeted, robust and reliable baseline monitoring data).

Practitioners are keen to adopt decision triggers as part of routine management for a range of threats, species and ecosystems. However, integrating decision triggers into day-to-day management requires methods that can be widely applied. Practitioners were very clear that they would appreciate support from the academic community to overcome the barriers they face.

Practitioners are calling for an overarching process and supporting methods to develop decision triggers. A key recommendation from our study is that guidance on how to develop decision triggers is required. An essential element of any guidance will be flexibility, such that decision triggers can be developed for different management contexts, rather than prescribing a one-size-fits-all approach. In fact, we believe that many critical steps needed for developing decision triggers already exist in most evidence-based management frameworks already used by conservation organisations. You can read about our full set of recommendations here.

Achieving the potential of decision triggers to support evidence-based conservation will require collaboration between conservation practitioners and scientists to demonstrate a flexible approach that can be applied within existing evidence-based management frameworks across different management contexts.

We are currently developing detailed guidance to provide practitioners with a clear understanding of how to integrate decision triggers within their organisations’ frameworks. This approach will be tested through a series of case studies to illustrate how decision triggers can be applied to managing species, ecosystems and threatening processes. If you would like to find out more about our upcoming research, please contact Carly Cook.

This blog post was written by Prue Addison, Kelly de Bie, and Carly Cook.

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Is no net loss of #marine #biodiversity feasible?

The answer is yes, but it won’t be as simple as directly applying terrestrial approaches in the ocean…

A new report prepared by the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) explores the feasibility of achieving no net loss (NNL) of biodiversity in the ocean. This review suggests that many of the challenges in achieving NNL on land are also very similar in the ocean (e.g., setting appropriate baselines, setting and monitoring appropriate biodiversity metrics).

There are also additional challenges in achieving NNL of marine biodiversity as marine systems are considered more connected and dynamic, and substantial scientific knowledge gaps exist due to a lack of research and monitoring data for many marine ecosystems. This will make it even more challenging to set baselines for some marine ecosystems, and develop effective restoration programs.

A key recommendation from UNEP-WCMC is that there is a strong business case for avoiding negative impacts on marine biodiversity (i.e., emphasising the earliest stage of the mitigation hierarchy in marine development projects more so than what is currently done on land). Therefore NNL of marine biodiversity should not just be about offsets (i.e., the final stage of the mitigation hierarchy). More of UNEP-WCMC’s recommendations can be found on their website.

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This report is very timely given two upcoming symposia on marine NNL. Stay tuned to twitter over the next few weeks for updates from these events:

The future for no-net-loss of biodiversity in the marine environment” at the Interdisciplinary Conservation Network workshop in Oxford, 26 – 28 June 2016. Follow live updates on twitter using #ICN16.

Confronting threats to marine ecosystems through the use of biodiversity offsets” at the Society for Conservation Biology Oceania conference in Brisbane, 5 – 9 July. Follow live updates on twitter using #SCBO2016.

You can also find out more about these events through the organisers (us!): Prue Addison (@prueaddison), Will Arlidge (@WilliamArlidge) & Nicole Shumway (@Nicki__S).

This blog was written by Prue Addison, William Arlidge and Nicole Shumway.

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