Two Post-doctoral positions available

Highly motivated Postdoctoral Research Fellows are invited to apply for a position within the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions. There are two positions available. The successful applicants will work on projects in the areas of: multispecies management, restoration ecology, ecosystem services, species and conservation action prioritisation, adaptive management and monitoring, decision-making in socio-ecological systems or other emerging priority areas of research. All projects will involve close liaison with CEED researchers at other nodes of the Centre.

The position description can be found here

ARC CEED (Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions)

The ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) aims to be the world’s leading research centre for solving environmental management problems and for evaluating the outcomes of environmental actions.

The research conducted by CEED will benefit environmental science, policy and management across Australia and around the world. Individually our key researchers are recognised as global leaders in fundamental environmental science – CEED draws together this expertise to produce a centre of international scale and calibre that will tackle the complex problem of environmental management and monitoring in a rapidly changing and uncertain world.



Making decisions to conserve species under climate change

Shoo, L.P., Hoffmann, A.A., Garnett, S., Pressey, R.L., Williams, Y.M., Taylor, M., Falconi, L., Yates, C.J., Scott, J.K., Alagador, D., Williams, S.E. (2013), Making decisions to conserve species under climate change. Climatic Change. February 2013.


Severe impacts on biodiversity are predicted to arise from climate change. These impacts may not be adequately addressed by conventional approaches to conservation. As a result, additional management actions are now being considered. However, there is currently limited guidance to help decision makers choose which set of actions (and in what order) is most appropriate for species that are considered to be vulnerable. Here, we provide a decision framework for the full complement of actions aimed at conserving species under climate change from ongoing conservation in existing refugia through various forms of mobility enhancement to ex situ conservation outside the natural environment. We explicitly recognize that allocation of conservation resources toward particular actions may be governed by factors such as the likelihood of success, cost and likely co-benefits to non-target species in addition to perceived vulnerability of individual species. As such, we use expert judgment of probable tradeoffs in resource allocation to inform the sequential evaluation of proposed management interventions.

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

Conserving Country: Reflections on the SCB-Oceania Conference

by Nancy Auerbach

Tal Polak and I (Nancy Auerbach) recently represented the Environmental Decisions Group (EDG) and the Wilson lab at the recent Society for Conservation Biology’s Oceania section regional conference, held in Darwin, NT between Friday 21 and Sunday 23 September 2012.  The conference theme was on ‘People and Conservation in Land and Sea Country,’ and communications on Indigenous conservation management were encouraged.  Some of the indigenous philosophy underlying land and sea country management that includes the tradition of passing along knowledge is widely shared by conservation biologists across the globe, and several of us from the EDG shared our current research in presentations at the conference.

My contribution was in speaking on ‘The state of threatened species prioritisation in Australia’ in a symposium organized by Judit Szabo (formerly EDG, now Charles Darwin University) on ‘Socio-economic aspects of threatened species conservation in Oceania.’   The summary of my presentation is that the states and territories of Australia currently have heterogeneous plans for managing threatened species, and species would be better served by a national plan that includes management collaboration amongst states.  Many species’ needs are being ignored, and some sub-species have gone extinct with little notice.  We recommend that an over-arching, functional, and strategic national plan is urgently needed.  A national plan would ideally prioritise projects comprised of actions that would benefit threatened species, and should account for feasibility of project success as well as the cost of actions to achieve an overall defined species conservation objective.  The governments of New Zealand and the state of New South Wales are currently implementing such a strategy, modelled after the Joseph et al. (2009) Project Prioritization Protocol.

This Silvereye (Zosterops lateralis) migrates interstate between Tasmania and Queensland. While the Silvereye is classified by the IUCN as ‘least concern,’ other threatened birds receive inadequate protection from legislation. For example, the Mt Lofty Ranges subspecies of the Spotted Quail-thrush (Cinclosoma punctatum anachoreta) was last sited in 1981 and is presumed extinct. Photo: ©Dirk Hovorka

Tal Polak (PhD candidate, Wilson lab) presented results from her first PhD project on ‘Optimal planning for mitigating the impacts of roads on wildlife.’  Continue reading Conserving Country: Reflections on the SCB-Oceania Conference

Depression and delusion in conservation

Garnett and Lindenmayer argue that like Cassandra of Greek mythology, "foretellers of doom alone will always be ignored until too late"

By  Luke P. Shoo

Conservation biology is generally regarded as a crisis discipline (Soulé 1985). However, consensus on the nature of the discipline does not extend to how the science should be communicated in order to further the primary goal of conserving biodiversity.  Garnett and Lindenmayer (2011) contend that relentless communication of an impending mass extinction may actually be counterproductive for conservation and cite evidence from other disciplines (medicine, public health and road safety) that  bad news needs to be balanced by empowerment if political and social change is to be achieved. In a counterpoint, Arlettaz et al. (2011) argue that a focus on good news could be highly detrimental, engendering a lack of perspective and giving academics and politicians the illusion that the crisis could be solved without questioning business-as-usual practices.

An ongoing debate

This debate, played out in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution, has not occurred in isolation. Similar exchanges have featured in related journals including Conservation Biology (Beever 2000; Orr 2004; Webb 2005; Knight 2007; Nugent 2007; Orr 2007), Bioscience (Swaisgood and Sheppard 2010; Patten and Smith-Patten 2011; Swaisgood and Sheppard 2011) and probably elsewhere. It appears, then, that there is a fine line to be negotiated when broadcasting conservation news. We may want to combat conservation despair (Swaisgood and Sheppard 2010) but at the same time avoid the perverse outcome of breeding self-deceitand naive optimism (Noss 1995; Webb 2005).

Arlettaz et al. say that focusing on "good news" through fear of the Cassandra syndrome may be just as detrimental

‘Good news’ conservation

Some practitioners have noticed that many good news stories have failed to attract wide attention and in response have begun the task of amassing and actively communicating examples of conservation successes. In a recent example, Sodhi et al. (in press) provide a global review of conservation interventions that have likely reduced extinction and endangerment of vertebrates and environmentally damaging practices of corporations. For instance, establishment of protected areas has reduced carbon emissions from deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon and better enforcement of whaling regulations has prompted a population recovery of Pacific grey whales (Eschrichtius robustus).

Reframing the question

Much of the argument against the presentation of good news is based on the negative ramifications of cultivating blissful ignorance. However, it could well be argued that “the problem lies with ignorance, not with optimism, because ignorant pessimism is as problematic as ignorant optimism” (Beever 2000). Clearly, then, there is a role for evidence based conservation (Sutherland, Pullin et al. 2004). Moreover, there is a need to give heed to context when communicating evidence of success.

One way to do this is to  ask the question: how different would the world look in the absence of conservation action (Ferraro and Pattanayak 2006)? For example, Hoffmann et al. (2010) estimate that conservation actions have reduced the rate of deterioration in the status of the world’s animals by at least one-fifth (i.e. conservation impact). Nevertheless, almost one-fifth of all living species remain classified as threatened and on average 52 species will move one category closer to extinction each year (i.e. context) (Hoffmann, Hilton-Taylor et al. 2010).

The impacts of conservation efforts should be communicated within the correct context. Adapted from Rodrigues et al. 2006

Undoubtedly, the effects of some actions will be difficult to measure (Brooks, Wright et al. 2009). There may also be surprises that prompt us to rethink the merits of some conservation practices (Bottrill, Walsh et al. 2011). The point is that studies designed to properly evaluate the efficacy of conservation interventions can provide the raw material to report on conservation success in proper context with the ongoing reality of problem. Presenting a more complete picture may help readers resist any tendency to become environmental Pollyannas* whilst guard against conservation apathy that can stem from a mental diet composed exclusively of bad news.

*an excessively or blindly optimistic person as used by Noss (1995).

References Continue reading Depression and delusion in conservation