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.

Reclaiming Degraded Rainforest: A Spatial Evaluation of Gains and Losses in Subtropical Eastern Australia to Inform Future Investment in Restoration

Shoo, L. P., Scarth, P., Schmidt, S. and Wilson, K. A. (2012), Reclaiming Degraded Rainforest: A Spatial Evaluation of Gains and Losses in Subtropical Eastern Australia to Inform Future Investment in Restoration. Restoration Ecology. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-100X.2012.00916.x



Forest restoration is expected to play a pivotal role in reducing extinctions driven by deforestation and climate change over the next century. However, spatial and temporal patterns of restoration (both passive and active) are likely to be highly variable depending on degree of land use change as well as levels of forest and soil degradation and residual vegetation. Uncertainties regarding the spatial and temporal reinstatement of forest on degraded land make it difficult to determine where future investment in active restoration should be targeted. We used satellite data to quantify change in the extent and foliage projection cover (FPC) of woody vegetation returning to land previously cleared of subtropical rainforest in eastern Australia. We show a modest recovery of woody vegetation but document high variability in this trend between local areas, expanding by over 5% in some situations but declining by up to 2% in others over the last decade (1999–2009 period). This was accompanied by minor change in average FPC (−0.2 to 4.2%). Overall, decadal expansion in woody vegetation was most apparent in local areas with intermediate levels of existing forest reestablishment and was most likely to occur on steep terrain near existing vegetation. These results provide a valuable first evaluation of where restoration is occurring and the likely time frame required to meet conservation objectives under a business as usual scenario. This knowledge enables returns from current investment to be quantified and can be used to better allocate funds for restoration in the future.

A modular framework for management of complexity in international forest-carbon policy

Elizabeth A. Law, Sebastian Thomas, Erik Meijaard, Paul J. Dargusch, Kerrie A. Wilson. 2012. A modular framework for management of complexity in international forest-carbon policy. Nature Climate Change 2:155-160. doi:10.1038/nclimate1376


Complex and variable ecological and social settings make the programme on reducing emissions through avoided deforestation, forest degradation and other forestry activities in developing countries (REDD+) a challenging policy to design. The total value to society of each type of REDD+ outcome is dependent on the fundamentally different risk profiles of alternative forest-management approaches and their scope and potential for co-benefits. We suggest a modular policy framework for REDD+ that distinguishes and differentially compensates the distinct outcomes. This could represent an improved framework to promote and manage incentives for effective forest-carbon initiatives, offer better scope to find common ground in policy negotiations and allow faster adaptation of policy to an uncertain future.

REDD+ conceptual design under present policy (left-hand side) and a proposed modular framework based on separation of REDD+ outcomes (right-hand side).
Figure 1: REDD+ conceptual design under present policy (left-hand side) and a proposed modular framework based on separation of REDD+ outcomes (right-hand side).

Farmers’ willingness to provide ecosystem services and effects of their spatial distribution

Stine Wamberg Broch, Niels Strange, Jette B. Jacobsen, Kerrie A. Wilson. 2012. Farmers’ willingness to provide ecosystem services and effects of their spatial distribution. Ecological Economics.


The supply of ecosystem goods and services is spatially heterogeneous and the provision of such goods and services is also influenced by landowners’ willingness to provide. This is particularly the case in countries such as Denmark where many properties are privately owned. However, little attention has previously been given to the relationship between farmers’ willingness to provide a good or service and the spatial heterogeneity associated with their demand. In this study farmers’ willingness to participate in afforestation contracts are investigated using a choice experiment of various contracts with the purpose to provide: groundwater protection, biodiversity conservation or recreation. We employ a random parameter logit model to analyse the relationship between farmers’ preferences for afforestation purposes and the spatial variables; groundwater interests, species richness, human population density, forest cover and hunting. The results show that increasing human population density significantly increases farmers’ required compensation with respect to recreational activities. Furthermore, there is a significant effect of hunting which decreases compensation required by the farmers to enter an afforestation project. The share of groundwater and forest cover does not significantly influence preferences. We conclude that spatial variations should be considered when designing conservation policies.

Fig. 1. Maps of the five spatial variables. a (upper left): Species richness. b (upper middle): Human population density. c (upper right): Groundwater interests. d (lower left): Forest cover. e (lower right): Hunting, hoofed game.

A novel approach for global mammal extinction risk reduction

Moreno Di Marco, Marcel Cardillo, Hugh P. Possingham, Kerrie A. Wilson, Simon P. Blomberg, Luigi Boitani, Carlo Rondinini. 2012. A novel approach for global mammal extinction risk reduction. Conservation Letters. DOI: 10.1111/j.1755-263X.2011.00219.x


With one-fourth of the world’s mammals threatened with extinction and limited budget to save them, adopting an efficient conservation strategy is crucial. Previous approaches to setting global conservation priorities have assumed all species to have equal conservation value, or have focused on species with high extinction risk, species that may be hard to save. Here, we identify priority species for optimizing the reduction in overall extinction risk of the world’s threatened terrestrial mammals. We take a novel approach and focus on species having the greatest recovery opportunity using a new conservation benefit metric: the Extinction risk Reduction Opportunity (ERO). We discover that 65–87% of all threatened and potentially recoverable species are overlooked by existing prioritization approaches. We use the ERO metric to prioritize threatened species, but the potential applications are broader; ERO has the potential to integrate with every strategy that aims to maximize the likelihood of conservation success.

Figure 3. Top priority areas detected for conserving threatened species. Priority areas include the highest ranked 5% of cells. (a) Priority areas for CR species (IUCN 2010); (b) priority areas for top-rank ERO species. Scale-bar and colors are the same in both maps, cell size is 100 km2 (Antarctica was excluded from analysis).

Avoiding bio-perversity from carbon sequestration solutions

David B. Lindenmayer, Kristin B. Hulvey, Richard J. Hobbs, Mark Colyvan, Adam Felton, Hugh Possingham, Will Steffen, Kerrie Wilson, Kara Youngentob, Philip Gibbons. 2012. Avoiding bio-perversity from carbon sequestration solutions. Conservation Letters 5:28-36.  DOI: 10.1111/j.1755-263X.2011.00213.x


The development of a new carbon economy has the potential to offer win–win outcomes for environments and economies. Large-scale tree plantations are expected to play a major role in carbon economies but could have negative ecological and economic consequences when key environmental values such as biodiversity conservation are not considered. We discuss three potential “bio-perversities”—negative outcomes for biodiversity—that could result from inappropriate plantation tree programs aimed solely at reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide and mitigating rapid climate change effects. These are: (1) clearing native vegetation to establish tree plantations, (2) planting trees that become invasive taxa, and (3) tree plantations negatively affecting key ecosystem processes such as fire and hydrological regimes. These bio-perversities may result from common mistakes in environmental management: (1) too narrow a focus on a single environmental value, (2) failing to adequately quantify ecological uncertainty, and (3) failing to anticipate how different groups of people respond to an environmental problem. We highlight ways to prevent possible bio-perverse outcomes in large-scale plantation programs. These include requiring that risk assessments precede project establishment, full carbon accounting is undertaken, incentives used to stimulate tree plantation establishment are rigorously examined, and rigorous compliance and ecological monitoring is undertaken.

Figure 1. Native woodland removal in southeastern Australia on semi-cleared agricultural land (a–d), followed by the establishment of a Radiata Pine (Pinus radiata) plantation (e,f). This plantation was established for paper pulp and timber production, but also was claimed as a carbon offset (g). Patches of temperate woodland support large numbers of declining bird species and such vegetation types have been listed as threatened ecological communities since vegetation clearing for plantation establishment in this image. The sign shown in (g) reads: “This carbon sink plantation, established and managed by State Forests of NSW, is one of several measures to reduce total greenhouse gas emissions”. (Photos by David Lindenmayer)

The Effect of Carbon Credits on Savanna Land Management and Priorities for Biodiversity Conservation

Douglass, L. L., H. P. Possingham, J. Carwardine, C. J. Klein, S. H. Roxburgh, J. Russell-Smith, and K. A. Wilson. 2011. The Effect of Carbon Credits on Savanna Land Management and Priorities for Biodiversity Conservation. PLoS ONE 6:e23843. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0023843


Carbon finance offers the potential to change land management and conservation planning priorities. We develop a novel approach to planning for improved land management to conserve biodiversity while utilizing potential revenue from carbon biosequestration. We apply our approach in northern Australia’s tropical savanna, a region of global significance for biodiversity and carbon storage, both of which are threatened by current fire and grazing regimes. Our approach aims to identify priority locations for protecting species and vegetation communities by retaining existing vegetation and managing fire and grazing regimes at a minimum cost. We explore the impact of accounting for potential carbon revenue (using a carbon price of US$14 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent) on priority areas for conservation and the impact of explicitly protecting carbon stocks in addition to biodiversity. Our results show that improved management can potentially raise approximately US$5 per hectare per year in carbon revenue and prevent the release of 1–2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent over approximately 90 years. This revenue could be used to reduce the costs of improved land management by three quarters or double the number of biodiversity targets achieved and meet carbon storage targets for the same cost. These results are based on generalised cost and carbon data; more comprehensive applications will rely on fine scale, site-specific data and a supportive policy environment. Our research illustrates that the duel objective of conserving biodiversity and reducing the release of greenhouse gases offers important opportunities for cost-effective land management investments.

A comparison of the difference in selection frequency, a measure of investment priority, between scenarios 1 and 2.

Engage the hodgepodge: management factors are essential when prioritizing areas for restoration and conservation action

Knight, A. T., S. Sarkar, R. J. Smith, N. Strange, and K. A. Wilson. 2011. Engage the hodgepodge: management factors are essential when prioritizing areas for restoration and conservation action. Diversity and Distributions.  DOI: 10.1111/j.1472-4642.2011.00789.x (online early view)


Restoration and conservation initiatives, such as the eradication of invasive alien plants, should be guided by scientific evidence. Typically, ecological data alone is used to inform the decision-making of these initiatives. Recent advances in the mapping of conservation opportunity include a diverse range of scientifically-identified factors that determine the feasibility and likely effectiveness of conservation initiatives, and include, for example, data on the willingness and capacity of land managers to be effectively involved. Social research techniques such as interview surveys, phenomenology, and social network analysis are important approaches for securing useful human and social data. These approaches are yet to be widely adopted in restoration initiatives, but could be usefully applied to improve the effective implementation of these initiatives. Restoration and conservation planners will deliver spatial prioritisations which provide more effective and cost-efficient decision-making if they include not simply ecological data, but also data on economic, human, management, social and vulnerability factors that determine implementation effectiveness.

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.