On reflection

CEED really has made its mark

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CEED’s annual report for 2016, available from the CEED website.

Environmental decision science is now a ‘thing’ and CEED and its related networks and partnerships can justifiably (and proudly) claim a lion share of the credit in raising the profile of this rapidly emerging field of conservation science.

Back in the 1990s, statistical ecology in Australia was strong, but there were few modellers and virtually no use of decision-science thinking in Australian conservation. Indeed, ecological meetings back in the early 90s were characterised by a mistrust of models and the notion that applied research was the work carried out by people not sufficiently talented to do ‘pure’ ecological research. How things have changed. CEED is both a product and a driver of that change.

If you want an example of that change, consider the number of topics covered in CEED’s current annual report (as a representative example of what CEED does) that were not typically discussed two decades ago: restoration, monitoring and multi-disciplinarity. Restoration ecology in Australia, championed by our own Chief Investigator Richard Hobbs, for example has moved from strength to strength with many stories in Decision Point on landscape restoration planning integrated with the cost and feasibility of restoration.

Monitoring and data collection has always seemed like a slightly dull activity but CEED has added a new sparkle to these activities – how much information do we really need to make good environmental decisions and what else could we do with those resources? And we’d like to note the increasing prevalence of social science and economics thinking in the work that CEED does. This was always our aspiration and the stories and publications in Decision Point and CEED’s just released annual report attest to that increasing emphasis.

As CEED matures, there are some obvious trends. First, both the quality and quantity of our research continue to grow, as can be seen from the number of publications and the quality of the journals in which they are published (numbers which far exceed our Key Performance Indicators). Second, our global impact continues to grow – CEED has become a Mecca for applied ecologists and we will capitalise on this with the new Environmental Decisions Alliance led by Eve McDonald-Madden.

But CEED’s legacy is far more than our world class research. The impact of basic research on policy is often hard to track, especially since laws and policies implemented by government rarely cite the evidence or influences that underpin their development. As one example, CEED’s work had a profound impact on the recent review of the NSW biodiversity legislation, a process that has taken well over a year (Hugh was a member of the expert review panel and can attest to the many and varied ways in which CEED research influenced that process). The NSW reforms include the fingerprints of CEED in at least three major ways: the prioritisation of species projects through the Save Our Species program, regional spatial planning as a preferred mechanism for delivering win-win conservation-development outcomes, and rigorous, transparent and quantitative biodiversity offsetting. All of these research endeavours have been discussed in Decision Point, some go back to the beginning of CEED (and its predecessor networks), and now they have significantly informed the policy of one of the most biodiverse regions in the world.

CEED’s latest annual report is also filled with stories about another of CEED’s legacies –the talented early-career researchers we have helped to nurture. Early-career researchers (ECRs) are the engine room of CEED’s innovation. They are involved in the vast majority of our research, and as one can read in the report, they are already making their mark on the international scene. Further, while mentoring and facilitating the careers of CEED ECRs has been one of our core functions, sometimes we forget about our mid-career researchers. We have been impressed by the rapid progress of our mid-career researchers in achieving Future Fellowships, being promoted to full Professorships and having impact through workshop and conference invitations on the international stage.

We commend to you this year’s annual report and congratulate Kathy Avent, CEED’s new Chief Operating Officer, for her efforts in bringing it together. It’s a worthy addition to CEED’s range of communication products. Speaking of which, a central feature of our communication machinery has been Decision Point. In this 100th issue the diversity of CEED research, and it’s researchers and our partners, are on display and will reach an audience much wider than that achieved by standard academic journals. Congratulations to you all, and to our editor David Salt on this milestone.

Note: This is an edited excerpt of the Director’s statement in the 2016 CEED Annual Report (released in April 2017). To see the original statement or any of the other stories contained in last year’s Annual Report please visit http://www.ceed.edu.au/images/Annual_Reports/ARC-CEED-2016-Annual-report.pdf

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