Modelling restoration in agricultural landscapes

Landowner decisions about conservation initiatives are influenced by their values, beliefs and social norms. Understanding what drives landowner decision making and how these decisions impact biodiversity on privately owned land can better inform natural resource management.

In this paper, Sacha Jellinek and EDG colleagues demonstrate how Bayesian Networks can be used to integrate ecological and social data with expert opinion to model the cost-effectiveness of revegetation (for biodiversity) in agricultural landscapes. They demonstrate their approach with a case-study in the grassy woodlands of south-eastern Australia. In this study, cost-effectiveness was defined as the improvement in native reptile and beetle species richness achieved per dollar spent on a restoration action.

Socio-ecological models predict that weed control, the planting of trees and shrubs, the addition of litter and timber, and the addition of rocks are likely to be the most cost-effective actions for improving reptile and beetle species richness. The cost-effectiveness of restoration is lower in remnant and revegetated areas than in cleared areas because of the higher marginal benefits arising from acting in degraded habitats. This result is contingent on landowners having favourable attitudes. Under the best-case landowner demographic scenarios the greatest biodiversity benefits are seen when cleared areas are restored. They found that current restoration investment practices may not be increasing faunal species richness in agricultural landscapes in the most cost-effective way, and that new restoration actions may be necessary.

Integrated socio-ecological models support transparent and cost-effective conservation investment decisions. Application of these models highlights the importance of collecting both social and ecological data when attempting to understand and manage socio-ecological systems.

Reference

Jellinek S, L Rumpff, DA Driscoll, KM Parris, BA Wintle (2014). Modelling the benefits of habitat restoration in socio-ecological systems. Biological Conservation 169: 60-67. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j. biocon.2013.10.023

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