Welcome to the Environmental Decisions Group. We’re a network of conservation researchers. We aim to generate worldclass research. We publish in high impact journals and, as with all researchers, we hope our work gets well cited. However, at the end of the day, the important outcome is that our work makes a difference in saving species and ecosystems.
We’re here to help!
Understanding the impacts of climate warming and land use change represent a major challenge for conservation managers. To date it has largely been based on projections of the future distribution of species. The aim of this study, led by CEED Postdoc Fellow Ramona Maggini, was to move beyond the simple projections of likely impacts of global change to identify the most vulnerable species.
The next step is to identify where and when to implement a range of recovery actions across NSW over the next 50 years, for different levels of resources available. This research is currently being done. We are considering four possible actions: dog control, fencing highways, habitat protection and habitat restoration and estimated the costs and benefits of implementing each action.
One of the most ground-breaking aspect of these studies are that they used data collected through citizen science projects. This enabled us to build predictive models across an area as large as the whole state of New South Wales that would not otherwise have been possible with the limited data typically collected using field-based data collection.
Freshwater habitats are critically important for a broad range of animals and plants (see the article, ‘the importance of freshwater habitat’) and they are in trouble. Worldwide these habitats are experiencing declines in biodiversity far greater than those being experienced in other terrestrial and marine ecosystems. New research involving EDG modelling is hoping to help managers identify how this decline might be best dealt with.
Freshwater habitats occupy less than 1% of the Earth’s surface, yet they contribute disproportionately to global biodiversity. They support approximately 10% of all known species, and one third of all vertebrates. Unfortunately, they are also under the hammer with many freshwater habitats being degraded by a range of processes including exotic invasions, eutrophication, over extraction (of water) and flow regulation.
‘Extinction risk’ is a powerful notion. If one species’ extinction risk is way higher than another species then there’s a strong argument to give it a greater share of the limited resources available for conservation. New research is suggesting, however, that there’s much we can do to improve the way we calculate extinction risk.
Once numbering tens of millions, American bison (Bison bison) were almost hunted to extinction during the 1800s for their meat and pelts. Yellowstone National Park was the only refuge in North America that did not see total extirpation of wild, free-ranging bison. Like many species, the bison’s risk of extinction has been shaped by its intrinsic traits as well as extrinsic threats – its body size, behaviour and abundance made it an easy and valuable target for human exploitation.
When should managers step in to stop an animal from becoming extinct? An obvious answer is that something
should be done when the population is experiencing a significant decline. But how can you distinguish between
declines that are the result of human pressure as opposed to declines that are merely a part of the population’s natural
Evaluating the success of a conservation strategy is a crucial element of best practice management. Without it, managers can’t benefit from the experiences of others and scarce funds available could be wasted. And, if the strategy isn’t actually working, a lack of evaluation could lead to misguided policy directives and a loss of confidence of donors.
NERP Environmental Decisions is working closely with the Strategic Approaches Branch (Department of the Environment) to apply state-of-the-art decision analysis to guard against cumulative impacts on threatened species and ecological communities (as listed under the EPBC Act).
The 2013/2014 summer break saw the third round of the NERP Summer Scholar program where leading undergraduate students are placed in the Department of the Environment to work on science/policy issues. The hope is that, in the process, a bit of light is thrown on that enduring, seemingly intractable challenge of how science might better engage with policy.
Australia’s commitment to preserving its native plant biodiversity is shown by its domestic policy goals and by the international agreements Australia has entered into. While the protection and enhancement of the habitat of native species (sometimes called in situ conservation) is obviously a priority, it is also recognised that ex situ conservation may be necessary to prevent the extinction of some species.
It’s the responsibility of the Australian Government’s Department of the Environment to make sure that development proposals don’t negatively impact on threatened species listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). How do they do this? Part of the job is simply checking where listed species occur in relation to planned developments. It’s important, therefore, to have reliable species distribution maps and a lot of effort goes into maintaining and updating these records.
In our story on “Turning up the heat on freshwater interactions” we discussed the importance of freshwater ecosystems, their parlous state, their vulnerability to climate change and the value of riparian restoration. In a recent review of the impacts of agricultural expansion in the tropics (Laurance et al., 2014), the plight of freshwater ecosystems was underscored.