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How monitoring can help us manage threats to species and the environment

The challenge

The number of threatened species is growing

Managing threats to species and the environment requires decision-making based on imperfect information. Scientists and managers remain particularly uncertain about the relative importance of managing threats and the outcomes of management actions.

With limited funds available, managers need to choose how and which species to manage to save as many species as possible from extinction. Uncertainty about the most effective action can be reduced with research and evaluation, but this costs money that could otherwise be spent on protecting species. Which management strategies should environmental managers implement, and how much should they spend on improving knowledge about management effectiveness to ensure that they get a positive return on research investment?

Funding and resources for learning how to better manage the environment are declining, even while the lengths of threatened species lists are increasing. The expectations for systematic evidence of the value of research and monitoring programs is growing worldwide, and is becoming essential to secure further funding.

In Australia, the number of federally listed species has increased by approximately 10% (44 species) since 2011, yet the resources required to implement existing recovery plan actions are inadequate (Cresswell and Murphy 2016). Managers will increasingly need to direct limited resources to where they can most effectively contribute to species recovery.

Our response

Ecological modelling

We combine our skills in ecological modelling, expert elicitation and data analysis to help managers navigate uncertainty and make decisions to fund research that will have maximum impact on species recovery targets.

To do this, we develop novel value of information techniques developed in economics and decision theory to structure problems and guide our clients through the decision-making process. We use our specialist knowledge of ecological modelling to tailor our solutions to individual client needs and generate justifiable priorities for action. In doing so, we are solving a critical research need by applying well-established theory to a new domain.

swamp, moira grass, murray river

The results

Management of an iconic wetland underway

This work is a developing research area, with high potential for future growth. We pioneered our work in the Goulburn-Broken Catchment Management Authority, where our work is now being used to guide management of an iconic wetland within the Murray-Darling basin.

We are delivering a second project to the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, which will be used to determine how the State government prioritises resources for management and monitoring programs of 33 threats and thousands of listed species.

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