Conservation planners face difficult decisions when it comes to investing in conservation management. What actions or areas should be prioritized to most effectively achieve the best outcomes with limited resources? How best to achieve conservation and socioeconomic objectives? How should uncertainty be incorporated into planning? Decision-support tools can help managers choose the best approach that suits their objectives. Our research develops new decision-support tools and innovative applications of existing tools, in collaboration with managers and people affected by conservation decisions, to help achieve objectives for biodiversity and people on the ground.

Prioritising management actions for the GBR islands
Research led by Dr Amelia Wenger

The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) faces many pressures, including climate change, invasive species, fishing, industrial development, and tourism. In the face of these threats, environmental managers need a framework with specific objectives to guide their conservation investments. Managers of the GBR’s 900 islands face difficult decisions when it comes to investing in conservation management. With insufficient staff and funds to deal with all management problems, where should they invest limited resources to achieve the best outcomes? These conservation decisions must be made in the face of spatially heterogeneous and dynamic threats, including invasive plants and animals and inappropriate fire regimes, and within a constrained budget. A suite of actions can be applied to address conservation objectives, but they cost different amounts, and contribute differently to goals. Furthermore, most decisions must be made under considerable uncertainty. This problem – complex, dynamic and multifaceted – describes the reality of much conservation decision-making, and defines the problem being tackled by this research project, undertaken in close collaboration with island managers in the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

Prioritising biosecurity on Western Australia’s islands
Research led by Dr Amelia Wenger

Western Australia has over 3,700 islands ranging in size from small rocky outcrops to the largest, Dirk Hartog Island, at 58,640 ha. Many of these islands are important for the threatened and endemic species they support. For several species of native fauna, some islands are the last refuge from threats posed by invasive species such as foxes, black rats and feral cats. Many islands also provide critical breeding sites for seabirds and sea turtles, and some contain culturally significant sites. Unfortunately, some islands have been colonised by invasive weeds such as buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) and introduced animals such as black rats (Rattus rattus). In addition, the increased use of islands by both the public for recreation and industry for extraction of oil and gas means an increased risk that invasive species will be introduced to islands. Invasive species are the biggest single cause of the loss of native species from islands across the globe. With so many islands to manage, it is important that managers have system that assists in the prioritisation of management actions to maximise the conservation outcomes achieved given a limited amount of funding. This project is developing a new approach to decision-support, including new software, to guide managers in deciding where and when to invest limited conservation resources to maximise the achievement of conservation objectives. The project team includes people working in the Western Australian Department of Parks and Wildlife.

The dynamic transition of scales from regional designs to local actions
Research led by Jessica Cheok

The influence that extent and resolution of data can have on the transition from regional designs (extensive, coarse-resolution) to local actions (restricted, fine-resolution) is poorly understood. No studies have explicitly explored or quantified this transition of scales, or the role that data resolution and updating of information play in this transition, even though it is a pivotal link in achieving successful conservation. We set out to improve our understanding of the assessment-implementation transition by simulating the change in focus from a prioritised regional design to locally implemented conservation actions. The simulations, coded in R, investigated how key factors affected the changes necessary to regional designs to apply them on the ground. The factors included the size of planning units used regionally (and therefore the spatial mismatch with actual management units), the difference in thematic resolution of habitat mapping between the regional design and local information, the spatial variability of cost data, and the required clustering of conservation areas. The results help us to understand how even the most carefully prepared regional designs must change in configuration to align with local constraints and new information.

Integrating social-ecological system paradigms into systematic conservation planning: tackling issues of scale
Research led by Jessica Cheok

Awareness of the multi-scale and cross-scale dynamics of social-ecological systems (SESs) is increasing. It is therefore important to examine the potential for integrating this understanding into systematic conservation planning, which works to conserve these systems. Because the term ‘scale’ has many meanings, we define it here as, “the physical dimensions, in either space or time, to which assessment or observation applies”. Patterns of biodiversity are shaped by many factors acting at different spatial and temporal scales, with interactions occurring within and across different scales. Focusing conservation planning at just one scale can therefore fail to achieve not only ecological objectives but also implementation within social systems. We take first steps towards multi-scale and cross-scale assessments of SESs in the prioritisation process, and evaluate how prioritisation outcomes can thereby be improved. We use the Lesser Sunda ecoregion of Indonesia as a case study, assessing existing conservation plans against known frameworks of SESs to understand the extent to which these plans capture components of SES frameworks. We then develop a novel approach to multi-scalar (and indirectly, cross-scalar) conservation prioritisations that appropriately address ecological, socio-political, and economic considerations, from local to international, to meet social-ecological conservation objectives.

Improving the effectiveness of marine protected areas as tools for the preservation of marine biodiversity
Research led by Edmond Sacre

Effective marine conservation requires minimising the overall loss of marine biodiversity. To do this we must minimise threats to marine biodiversity. Marine protected areas (MPAs) are among the most effective tools to mitigate threats, which can improve the biomass, diversity, and resilience of affected species and ecosystems. However, evidence is emerging that MPAs are often placed in sub-optimal places that are residual to extractive activities, such as fishing and oil and gas extraction, which present major threats. The problem is exacerbated by the growing popularity of huge offshore MPAs, which help nations reach international targets for protecting a specified proportion of their waters, while having questionable value for marine conservation. On the other hand, it has been suggested that such MPAs, while doing little to abate present day threats, might be useful in the future, when onshore resources become depleted and threats shift offshore. For this project we aim to determine the ideal conservation planning strategy for mitigating threats to marine biodiversity by finding a balance between mitigating imminent threats and pre-empting future ones. We assess real-world MPA systems against our ideal recommendations. We also aim to identify constraints on setting up effective MPA networks, focusing primarily on offshore concessions for the extraction of oil, gas, and minerals. The research spans the globe, but with a particular focus on Micronesia and the Coral Triangle, regions which both have exceptional marine biodiversity and with human populations that depend highly on ocean resources.

Prioritising management actions in northern Australia
Research led by Dr. Jorge G. Álvarez-Romero, in collaboration with Dr. Vanessa Adams

Overgrazing, feral animals, weeds, erosion, and altered fire regimes are major concerns for land managers in northern Australia due to their impacts on pastoral production and the environment. But what is the most effective way to deal with them? To answer this question we are working closely with natural resource management organisations and landholders to develop a new approach to catchment planning by the National Environment Research Program. Through this project, we are bringing together information about the community’s priorities, the cost of undertaking different types of management and other available environmental data. With this knowledge, we will propose cost-effective strategies to address the most pressing production and environmental problems in northern Australia. The project will also contribute to coordinate local, regional and State management priorities and actions.

Prioritising multiple management actions for marine turtle conservation
Research led by Dr Mariana Fuentes

Resources for conserving biodiversity are invariably insufficient. This situation creates the need for transparent systematic frameworks to help stakeholders prioritise the allocation of resources across multiple management actions. This issue is particularly important for threatened species, such as marine turtles that have complex life histories and are exposed to multiple threats at each of their life stages. These species require different management actions for threats and areas specific to each life stage. This project addresses the complexities and approaches undertaken to prioritise marine turtle management under different contexts and locations. First, I developed a novel framework to explicitly prioritise actions to minimise the impacts of several threats across the range used by the eastern Gulf of Carpentaria and Torres Strait flatback turtle population. The framework uses a budget constraint and maximises the expected improvement in species persistence resulting from a set of management actions, accounting for the likelihood of the action being successfully applied and accepted by local and Indigenous communities. The framework can be adapted easily to a wide range of species, geographical scales, and life stages. A new research project in Brazil will guide the prioritisation of hawksbill and loggerhead turtle management as climate change progresses.


Adams, V.M., J. G. Álvarez-Romero, J. Carwardine, L. Cattarino, V. Hermoso, M. Kennard, S. Linke, R. L. Pressey, N. Stoeckl. 2014. Planning across freshwater and terrestrial realms: cobenefits and tradeoffs between conservation actions. Conservation Letters 7:425-440

Adams, V.M., Pressey, R.L., Stoeckl, N., 2014. Estimating landholders’ probability of participating in a stewardship program, and the implications for spatial conservation priorities. PLoS ONE 9(6), e97941

Brotánková, J., Randall, M., Lewis, A., Pressey, B. and Wenger, A. (2015). A genetic algorithm solver for pest management control in island systems. In: Artificial Life and Computational Intelligence: Proceedings of the First Australasian Conference, Newcastle, New South Wales, 5-7 February 2015. Eds. S.K. Chalup, A.D. Blair and M. Randall. Pp. 273-285

Fuentes, M.M.P.B., Blackwood, J., Jones, B., Kim, M., Leis, B., Limpus, C.J., Marsh, H., Mitchell, J., Pouzols, F.M., Pressey, R.L., Visconti, P., 2015. A decision framework for prioritizing multiple management actions for threatened marine megafauna. Ecological Applications 25, 200-214