Conservation decision making in social-ecological systems

Making effective decisions for biodiversity conservation requires an understanding of the social system in which conservation actions are designed, planned for, and implemented. However, little is understood about the complex interactions between social and ecological systems and the impact of these interactions on the success of biodiversity conservation initiatives. Our research in this area draws upon theory and tools from the social sciences to understand the interplay between social and ecological variables and how they affect conservation outcomes.

Multi-stakeholder and multi-scale decision making for conservation

Large-scale conservation has gained momentum as scientists and practitioners recognise the need to move beyond the identification and management of protected areas to include management of surrounding landscapes. This introduces multiple threats, objectives and values into the decision making process, requiring actions to be coordinated among multiple stakeholders. Actions also need to have a multi-scale focus as often small scale transformation is required to achieve large-scale conservation outcomes. For example, changes of management practices at the property level are required in order to achieve ecological connectivity at the landscape scale.

Accounting for social-ecological system interactions in conservation decision making

Effective biodiversity conservation requires an understanding of the social processes that drive change, the conditions that enables such processes, and how people relate to the environment. Humans are social beings, and as such decisions are not made independently of others. How people are connected to each other and their connections to the environment bring uncertainty to the process of deciding what conservation actions to apply where and when. Understanding such connections can enable us to make conservation decisions that are more likely to succeed.

Some of the questions we ask:

  • What are the social processes that lead to effective conservation in a multi-stakeholder, multi-action and multi-scale conservation setting (e.g. collaboration, competition, social influence)
  • Can we employ social network research to better understand how collaboration between stakeholders affects conservation outcomes, and can we make these networks more effective?
  • Can we assess the propensity of collaboration networks to support multi-scale decision making?
  • Can we account for the interactions between the social and ecological systems in conservation decision making?
Example of a social network that can be analysed to understand the collaborative interactions between stakeholders.

Example of a social network that can be analysed to understand the collaborative interactions between stakeholders.

Read more about this research:

Workshopping the network

How can research on social networks be best applied to natural resource management? This was the focus of a recent CEED workshop in Brisbane that brought together researchers from around Australia and across the world…read more


Read these stories in Decision Point magazine…

DPoint92cover3-156x220Planning for the long term costs of protected areas

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 benefit of protected areas. Yet, these activities all incur an expense… read more


Kerrie Wilson, Angela Guerrero Gonzalez, Courtney MorgansRachel Friedman, Angela Dean, Julia van Velden, Emily Massingham


Ryan McAllisterJonathan RhodesIadine Chades Örjan Bodin

Key references

Guerrero, A., Bennett, N., Wilson, K., Carter, N., Gill, D., Mills, M., Ives, C., Selinske, M., Larrosa, C., Bekessy, S., Januchowski-Hartley, F., Travers, H., Wyborn, C. and Nuno, A. 2018. Achieving the promise of integration in social-ecological research: A review and prospectus. Ecology and Society. 23 (3):38.

Friedman, R., Law, E., Bennett, N., Ives, C. Thorn, J., and Wilson, K. 2018.  How just and just how? A systematic review of social equity in conservation research. Environmental Research Letters. 13(5).

Dean, A. J., Church, E. K., Loder, J., Fielding, K. S., Wilson, K. A. 2018. How do marine and coastal citizen science experiences foster environmental engagement? Journal of Environmental Management 213, 409-416,

Guerrero, A. M. and Wilson, K. A. 2017. Using a social-ecological framework to inform the implementation of conservation plans. Conservation Biology. 31: 290–301.

Morgans C. L., Guerrero A., Ancrenaz M., Meijaard E. and Wilson K.A. 2017. Not more, but strategic collaboration needed to save Borneo’s Orangutan. Global Ecology and Conservation. 11: 236246

Guerrero, A.M., Bodin Ö., McAllister, R.R.J., and Wilson, K.A. 2015Achieving social-ecological fit through bottom-up collaborative governance: an empirical investigation. Ecology and Society. 20(4): 41.

Guerrero, A.M., McAllister, R.R.J., and Wilson, K.A. 2015. Achieving Cross-Scale Collaboration for Large Scale Conservation Initiatives. Conservation Letters 8(2): 107-117.

Guerrero, A. M., McAllister,R.R.J., Corcoran, J. and Wilson, K. A. 2013. Scale Mismatches, Conservation Planning, and the Value of Social-Network Analyses. Conservation Biology 27:35-44.

Guerrero, A., Knight, A., Grantham, H., Cowling, R. and Wilson, K. 2010. Predicting willingness-to-sell and its utility for assessing conservation opportunity for expanding protected area networks.  Conservation Letters, 3 (5), pp. 332–339.