Chapter 4. Tools for managing and restoring biodiversity

This chapter discusses the leading threats to Australia's biodiversity and how they are being managed, particularly through the use of decision making tools.

Australia's biodiversity: management and restoration tools: Watch an interview with author Dr Tara Martin (06:51)

Show transcript

[Music plays and text appears: Australia’s biodiversity – Management and restoration tools]

[Image changes to show Dr. Tara Martin - Ecologist]

Dr. Tara Martin: Australia is facing an unprecedented decline in biodiversity, as is the globe, and one of the challenges is that there is a huge amount of uncertainty in terms of how to deal with that biodiversity loss. There is also a limited amount of resources that we can use to tackle those problems, and at the same time there’s a lot of competing, other problems that we’re trying to deal with around the world that are taking up those same resources. So we have a very challenging set of problems to deal with in Australia, and we’re trying to do it in the best way possible, with the resources that we have at hand.

[Image changes to a country landscape and text appears: Threats to biodiversity]

Amongst the threats to Australian biodiversity there’s two that are key, and that is habitat loss and fragmentation and the introduction of exotic species.

[Image changes to farmland crops and text appears: Habitat loss, Invasive species]

[Image changes to fish caught in a net]

In terms of managing those threats there’s many actions we can take, but the first one is to remove the threat entirely.

[Image changes to an outback landscape]

[Image has changed back to Dr. Tara Martin]

So in terms of habitat loss, it’s removing the destruction of habitat, and for invasive species it’s preventing entry into Australia.

[Image changes to people planting a tree]

Other actions we can take for habitat loss includes restoration, active restoration, putting vegetation and animals backing into the landscape.

[Images changes to ducks floating on the water]

[Image changes to a wild pig in the bush]

And in terms of invasive species we want to contain their distribution once they come into Australia, and then if they start to spread we want to control that spread.

[Image has changed back to Dr. Tara Martin]

There are many other threats facing Australia, livestock grazing and misuse of fire are two other big ones.

[Image changes to sheep grazing in a field and text appears: Grazing]

[Image changes to show a herd of cattle]

Grazing affects over 80% of the Australian landscape, and by managing stock density we can go a long way towards maintaining biodiversity in these landscapes.

[Image changes to cows in an open field]

[Image has changed back to Dr. Tara Martin]

In terms of fire, fire frequencies have become too frequent in many parts of the Australian landscape, and also too extensive.

[Image changes to a bushfire and text appears: Wild fire]

[Image changes to a man speaking into a walkie talkie]

So by understanding Aboriginal fire regimes we’re trying to get back to something more in tune with what the fire regimes were prior to European colonisation.

[Image changes to picture of outback Australia and text appears: Making better biodiversity management decisions]

[Image has changed back to Dr. Tara Martin]

Over the last ten years or so we’ve developed a lot of techniques to help us make better decisions in the face of this high level of uncertainty and resource constraints, and we call this process of decision making called structured decision making.

[Text appears: Structured decision making]

[Image changes to view from a plane flying above the ground]

There’s a few key steps that we take when we’re using this process, and they are firstly to clearly define the problem that we have.

[Text appears: 1. Define the problem]

[Image changes to a flowering plant and text appears: 1. Define the problem; 2. Articulate the actions]

The second thing we need to do is clearly articulate what actions we’re actually going to take.

[Image changes to kangaroos in a field]

What can we do to protect biodiversity in these different circumstances?

[Image changes to large birds walking in an open field and text appears: 1. Define the problem; 2. Articulate the actions; 3. Determine the benefits]

The next thing we need to do is ask ourselves, well what’s the actual benefit of taking that action?

[Image changes to camera panning over an open landscape]

If we, for example, are going to minimise grazing in a particular area, what’s going to be the benefit of that gazing response on the plants and animals that we’re trying to protect?

[Image changes to farmland and sheep grazing]

[Image has changed back to Dr. Tara Martin]

Finally, we need to think about what the resource constraints are.

[Image changes to a bird flying and text appears: 1. Define the problem; 2. Articulate the actions; 3. Determine the benefits; 4. Consider resource constrains ($ and time)]

Often we try and solve these problems without having an understanding of the costs of undertaking the different actions, and that’s really like trying to go shopping without price tags.

[Image changes to a flower]

[Image has changed back to Dr. Tara Martin]

So we need to know how much money do we have to deal with this particular problem, and how much time do we have, what’s the timeframe in terms of solving this type of problem?

[Images changes to cattle in a field and text appears: Applying structured decision making]

[Image has changed back to Dr. Tara Martin]

We’re using these methods of structured decision making to solve some very tricky problems in Australia, and they include how to recover our endangered species. At the moment we have over 700 species listed on the EPBC, that’s the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

[Text appears: 700 endangered species]

[Image changes to a baby parrot and text appears: Captive breeding of Orange-bellied Parrots]

We don’t have enough resources to recover all of those species, so we need to come up with a way of actually deciding which ones we can recover for the resources we have.

[Image changes to a Tasmanian Devil and text appears: Managing facial tumour disease in Tasmanian Devils]

So using this technique is a very helpful way of doing that.

[Image changes to a picture of Dr. Tara Martin and text appears: Monitoring endangered species]

[Image has changed back to Dr. Tara Martin]

We can define the costs of taking the different actions, we can define the benefits for each species of taking these actions, and we can also look at the feasibility.

[Image of Dr. Tara Martin walking along with a man]

The reason why this approach has been so successful is that we’re essentially producing a prospectus for investing in biodiversity.

[Image has changed back to Dr. Tara Martin]

And this is really useful when we’re working with government agencies and industry bodies in that we’re able to say this is how much biodiversity you’re likely to conserve for this amount of money spent.

[Image changes to show Eddie Game – The Nature Conservancy]

Eddie Game: My name is Eddie Game. I’m a Senior Scientist with the Nature Conservancy, which is the world’s largest conservation non-government organisation. We work in about 45 countries around the world on biodiversity conservation strategies.

[Image changes to view from a plane flying above the ground]

In Australia we work in the Kimberley, and we support conservation management in a number of Indigenous protected areas. This is the same place where CSIRO has been working to determine the most cost effective approaches to managing our biodiversity.

[Image has changed back to Eddie Game]

[Image changes to various pictures of birds at the edge of a lake]

We use CSIRO’s products. That’s one of the big reasons why people support the Nature Conservancy, is that we’re really committed to using science to determine the work we do.

[Image has changed back to Eddie Game]

And it’s a big incentive for our supporters that we’re always looking for the most cost effective approaches to biodiversity conservation.

[Image changes to various pictures of the Kimberley]

In the Kimberley this turns out to be for us managing fire regimes, managing cattle on those lands, and also managing invasive herbivores.

[Image changes to a picture of a herd of cattle and text appears: Decisions for the future]

[Image has changed back to Dr. Tara Martin]

Many of the problems that we have right now in terms of biodiversity conservation are very urgent, and failure to make decisions in a timely way will lead to extinction. In fact one of our most recent extinctions was the Christmas Island Pipistrelle.

[Images changes to a picture of a bat]

And that’s a species that we had been monitoring for quite a long time, but a failure to act in time resulted in the extinction of that species.

[Image has changed back to Dr. Tara Martin]

We want to avoid that in the future. We have the tools at hand to make decisions under huge amounts of uncertainty.

[Image of people next to a helicopter]

[Image changes to two women recording data in the bush]

Australia is very well placed in terms of managing its biodiversity because a lot of the scientific expertise has been developed in this country.

[Image of a remote device flying over wetlands]

[Image of two men recording data in the bush]

[Image has changed back to Dr. Tara Martin]

So given the political will and the social appetite for biodiversity conservation is there, we should do very well in halting the decline of our biodiversity and recovering the biodiversity that is already in decline.

[Image changes to a baby parrot and text appears: MUSIC – Premiumbeat.com; ADDITIONAL FOOTAGE – Bruce Webber; ADDITIONAL IMAGES – Bruce Doran, Tara Martin, Sue McIntyre, Wendy Henderson, Chris Tzaros, Menna Jones, Lindy Lumsden, Melbourne Water]

[Music plays and CSIRO logo appears with text: Big ideas start here www.csiro.au]

Hide transcript

Land managers in Australia are using an array of different measures to manage threats to biodiversity.

Chapter overview

There are two leading threats to Australia’s biodiversity: habitat loss and invasive species. Additional threats include overgrazing, altered fire regimes, over-harvesting, water pollution and climate change.

Potential management actions in response to these threats include:

  • implementing conservation reserves
  • controlling invasive species
  • restoring of degraded ecosystems
  • translocating or captive breeding of endangered plants and animals.

Decision tools can help land managers make the best choices when managing and restoring biodiversity. These decision tools help determine which management actions should be taken, when and where, in the face of competing societal values, economic constraints and scientific uncertainty.

Download the chapter or the whole book [PDF and EPUB versions available]

Chapter authors

Tara G. Martin, Josie Carwardine, Linda Broadhurst, Simon Ferrier, Craig James, Andy Sheppard, Stuart Whitten and Iadine Chades

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