Bide your time

Conservation gain could be obtained by identifying efficiencies across time, according to Gwen Iacona. Iacona, a CEED Postdoctoral Research Fellow at UQ, used mathematical modelling to demonstrate that because of the different rates of change in economic and ecological systems, waiting, and using the time to improve the conservation capacity of the organisation, provided better conservation outcomes than simply spending available money immediately (Iacona et al, 2017).

“We tested this idea using data on forest restoration to counteract bird extinctions in Australia and Paraguay,” says Iacona. “We found that in both cases more species could be protected and extinctions could be halted faster when the available money for restoration was leveraged by investing it, before spending it on projects.

“This result opens up a new dimension in conservation planning because it demonstrates that conservation gains can be obtained by looking for efficiencies in time and not just in space as has been the traditional strategy.”

Iacona said that every year more species were being driven to extinction by the combined pressures of habitat destruction, invasive species and climate change. These ongoing losses had created a crisis culture in conservation, where project funds were spent as soon as they are received. This new research challenged that orthodoxy and demonstrated how strategic delays could improve efficiency.

“Waiting can allow agencies to leverage additional benefits from their funds through investment, capacity building, or monitoring and research,” explains Iacona. “With the right amount of delay, limited conservation resources can protect more species and surprisingly they can even do so in less time. Our results suggest that, in addition to their current focus on where to target resources, conservation managers should carefully choose when to spend these funds.”


Iacona GD, HP Possingham & M Bode (2017). Waiting can be an optimal conservation strategy, even in a crisis discipline. PNAS

Leave a Reply