Scale Mismatches, Conservation Planning, and the Value of Social-Network Analyses

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. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2012.01964.x 


Many of the challenges conservation professionals face can be framed as scale mismatches. The problem of scale mismatch occurs when the planning for and implementation of conservation actions is at a scale that does not reflect the scale of the conservation problem. The challenges in conservation planning related to scale mismatch include ecosystem or ecological process transcendence of governance boundaries; limited availability of fine-resolution data; lack of operational capacity for implementation; lack of understanding of social-ecological system components; threats to ecological diversity that operate at diverse spatial and temporal scales; mismatch between funding and the long-term nature of ecological processes; rate of action implementation that does not reflect the rate of change of the ecological system; lack of appropriate indicators for monitoring activities; and occurrence of ecological change at scales smaller or larger than the scale of implementation or monitoring. Not recognizing and accounting for these challenges when planning for conservation can result in actions that do not address the multiscale nature of conservation problems and that do not achieve conservation objectives. Social networks link organizations and individuals across space and time and determine the scale of conservation actions; thus, an understanding of the social networks associated with conservation planning will help determine the potential for implementing conservation actions at the required scales. Social-network analyses can be used to explore whether these networks constrain or enable key social processes and how multiple scales of action are linked. Results of network analyses can be used to mitigate scale mismatches in assessing, planning, implementing, and monitoring conservation projects.

Does more mean less? The value of information for conservation planning under sea level rise

Runting, R. K., Wilson, K. A. and Rhodes, J. R. (2013), Does more mean less? The value of information for conservation planning under sea level rise. Global Change Biology, 19: 352–363. doi: 10.1111/gcb.12064


Many studies have explored the benefits of adopting more sophisticated modelling techniques or spatial data in terms of our ability to accurately predict ecosystem responses to global change. However, we currently know little about whether the improved predictions will actually lead to better conservation outcomes once the costs of gaining improved models or data are accounted for. This severely limits our ability to make strategic decisions for adaptation to global pressures, particularly in landscapes subject to dynamic change such as the coastal zone. In such landscapes, the global phenomenon of sea level rise is a critical consideration for preserving biodiversity.

Here, we address this issue in the context of making decisions about where to locate a reserve system to preserve coastal biodiversity with a limited budget. Specifically, we determined the cost-effectiveness of investing in high-resolution elevation data and process-based models for predicting wetland shifts in a coastal region of South East Queensland, Australia. We evaluated the resulting priority areas for reserve selection to quantify the cost-effectiveness of investment in better quantifying biological and physical processes.

We show that, in this case, it is considerably more cost effective to use a process-based model and high-resolution elevation data, even if this requires a substantial proportion of the project budget to be expended (up to 99% in one instance). The less accurate model and data set failed to identify areas of high conservation value, reducing the cost-effectiveness of the resultant conservation plan. This suggests that when developing conservation plans in areas where sea level rise threatens biodiversity, investing in high-resolution elevation data and process-based models to predict shifts in coastal ecosystems may be highly cost effective. A future research priority is to determine how this cost-effectiveness varies among different regions across the globe.

Ecosystem Services Meets Systematic Conservation Planning

by Liz Law

This week saw the inaugural joint meeting of the Ecosystem Services Discussion Group and the Marxan Party to discuss software and tools for planning and prioritization of Ecosystem Services.

The Ecosystem Services framework has developed in recent years, encapsulating land stewardship to foster the many benefits that we derive from our ecosystems. These benefits are many and multifaceted, ranging from agricultural production and climate change mitigation, to regulating watersheds, and stimulating inspiration in diverse cultural settings. However, like biodiversity, planning for ecosystem services requires balancing the management requirements of a diverse range of sometimes opposing land uses, resulting in potentially complex, multi-criteria problems.

Ecosystem services, meet Systematic Conservation Planning.

Systematic Conservation Planning has grown from the need to solve multi-objective allocation problems in a repeatable, transparent way. Typically focused on multiple species or ecosystems, Systematic Conservation Planning has increasingly accounted for real world complexities such as direct and opportunity costs, equity of impact, physical and thematic connectivity between planning units, and contribution of multiple land use types. Continue reading Ecosystem Services Meets Systematic Conservation Planning

Mapping Ecosystem Services (ES) at Multiple Scales

By Maria Martinez Harms

This week we are happy to welcome a new PhD student, Maria Jose Martinez Harms, in to the Lab. Maria Jose is from Santiago, Chile, and she is interested in the implementation of ecosystem service (ES) theory in to conservation practice. Specifically through the development of methodological tools to support decision making process to inform about ES supply, exploring the spatial tradeoffs between ES and biodiversity with the aim of including ES in conservation planning.

Maria is concerned about conservation issues in Latin America. In her Honours she worked under the supervision of Professor Rodolfo Gajardo in the University of Chile in the development of a methodological approach to justify the existence of protected areas in the Chilean Western Patagonia because of their potential to supply ecosystem processes and ES (Martinez-Harms & Gajardo 2008). The background of this concern about Patagonian conservation issues is because in Chile more than 80% of the protected surface is located in Western Patagonia (Luebert & Becerra 1998). Nevertheless these areas aren’t ‘hotspots’ of global biodiversity (Myers et al. 2000; Mittermeier et al. 2004) and in the current days the construction of seven big dams and a transmission line is considered by the national government in this region, threatening the conservation of these wild areas (Vince 2010). A Multi-criteria Evaluation was applied using land cover and vegetation maps, scoring each vegetation type according their capacity to supply ES using expert knowledge and available bibliographic information. The main finding of this study was the identification of the most important ecosystem processes and ES these landscapes provide and the assessment of their spatial distribution.

Figure 1: A natural protected landscapes of the Chilean Western Patagonia

Maria did her Master studies in the Centre of Ecosystem Research (CIEco: in Mexico, under the supervision of Patricia Balvanera, first working with ES provided by Tropical Dry Forests (TDF) (Balvanera et al. 2011). Specifically analysing how their ecological characteristics, Continue reading Mapping Ecosystem Services (ES) at Multiple Scales

Spatial Prioritization for Conservation and Management: Integrating Vegetation Condition into Conservation Planning

Dr. Kerrie Wilson and Megan Evans were recently awarded funding from the Australian Centre for Ecological Synthesis and Analysis (ACEAS) for a series of workshops that will use the Great Western Woodlands of south-western Australia as a case study to design a method for mapping vegetation condition for a large region. The information provided will assist in the prioritisation of regional conservation efforts. The first meeting is set to take place from 15th-17th November.

The south-west of Australia is a region of national and international ecological significance, and contains the largest intact example of Mediterranean woodland in the world. Stretching almost 16 million hectares east of the Western Australian wheat belt, The Great Western Woodlands (GWW) is significant not only for its natural and cultural heritage, but is also an important area for future economic development. Despite its size and intactness relative to the surrounding agricultural matrix, the GWW faces increasing pressures from too frequent fire, invasive species and the expansion of extractive land uses.

Maintaining the overall intactness of this landscape is considered crucial for preserving large scale ecological and evolutionary processes. An understanding of extent and condition of vegetation will therefore be necessary to inform management decisions at the regional scale, and would assist with State-level strategic planning, as well as region-wide conservation and land use planning initiatives currently underway.  Importantly, a widely used conservation planning tool (Marxan with Zones) now has the capacity to explicitly consider site specific metrics such as vegetation condition when determining priorities for conservation and management, alongside targets for the representation of biodiversity features.

The GWW contains the largest intact example of Mediterranean woodland in the world. Photo: Megan Evans
The GWW contains the largest intact example of Mediterranean woodland in the world. Photo: Megan Evans

However, there is in general a deficit of regional scale mapping of vegetation condition in Australia, despite recent advancements in methodologies for modeling condition and the availability of data which could be used for this purpose.  Moreover, there is exists no framework for incorporating such data into spatial prioritization analyses. As part of the landscape-scale conservation project that is Gondwana Link, the GWW provides a unique test bed for developing such a framework that could provide guidance for other connectivity conservation projects being undertaken in Australia and overseas.

The working group will bring together experts in the fields of conservation biology, remote sensing and vegetation ecology with the common goal of  consolidating approaches and data for regional scale mapping of vegetation condition, and advancing the integration of such information into  spatial conservation prioritization.  Specifically, we will:

  1. Synthesise existing data on vegetation attributes, disturbances and climatic variables which could inform the prioritization of conservation, management or restoration activities at the regional scale,
  2. Develop a methodology for mapping woody vegetation condition at a regional scale, using the GWW as a case study, and
  3. Determine a general framework for integrating information on vegetation condition into spatial conservation prioritization analyses.
Map of southern Western Australia showing the boundary of the Great Western Woodlands. Source: Watson, A., S. Judd, J. Watson, A. Lam, and D. Mackenzie. 2008. The Extraordinary Nature of the Great Western Woodlands. The Wilderness Society, Perth.
Map of southern Western Australia showing the boundary of the Great Western Woodlands. Source: Watson, A., S. Judd, J. Watson, A. Lam, and D. Mackenzie. 2008. The Extraordinary Nature of the Great Western Woodlands. The Wilderness Society, Perth.

Prioritizing conservation investments for mammal species globally

Kerrie A. WilsonMegan C. EvansMoreno Di Marco, David C. Green, Luigi Boitani, Hugh P. Possingham, Federica Chiozza and Carlo Rondinini

Prioritizing conservation investments for mammal species globally. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 366:2670-2680. doi:10.1098/rstb.2011.0108


We need to set priorities for conservation because we cannot do everything, everywhere, at the same time. We determined priority areas for investment in threat abatement actions, in both a cost-effective and spatially and temporally explicit way, for the threatened mammals of the world. Our analysis presents the first fine-resolution prioritization analysis for mammals at a global scale that accounts for the risk of habitat loss, the actions required to abate this risk, the costs of these actions and the likelihood of investment success. We evaluated the likelihood of success of investments using information on the past frequency and duration of legislative effectiveness at a country scale. The establishment of new protected areas was the action receiving the greatest investment, while restoration was never chosen. The resolution of the analysis and the incorporation of likelihood of success made little difference to this result, but affected the spatial location of these investments.

Figure 1. Spatial distribution of conservation funds through time at (a) 5, (b) 10, (c) 15 and (d) 20 years for all conservation actions, and (e) the average change in land use through time. Restoration received no investment after 20 years. Black solid line, protected areas; grey line, reduced impact logging; black dashed line, forestry; black dotted line, unallocated; grey dashed-dotted line, agriculture.

Incorporating willingness-to-sell into spatial conservation prioritization

A new study led by Angela Guerrero has investigated the value of considering the willingness-to-sell of landowners in determining priorities  for expanding protected area networks.  The paper has just been published in Conservation Letters, and has been profiled by Conservation Maven – read the review here.

Guerrero, A., Knight, A., Grantham, H., Cowling, R., & Wilson, K. (2010). Predicting willingness-to-sell and its utility for assessing conservation opportunity for expanding protected area networks Conservation Letters DOI: 10.1111/j.1755-263X.2010.00116.x