Recruiting 2 PhD students: Living with change: Place, pathways and policy

Thinking about doing a PhD? We have 2 PhD scholarships for a new project we have going! These PhDs will join an exciting group of researchers to build on existing research strengths in Climate Science with a focus on the human dimensions.  We are seeking to urgently fill the first PhD position (Climate adaptation pathways) while start date on the second is flexible over the next year (Places at risk).

New PhD opportunity: Living with change: Place, pathways and policy

Dr Vanessa Adams, Dr Rebecca Harris, Professor Jason Byrne, Distinguished Professor Jamie Kirkpatrick (all Geography and Spatial Science), Professor Elizabeth Lester, and Professor Jan McDonald are recruiting two PhD students to explore related topics in Living with Change: Place, Pathways and Policy.

The first PhD student will commence this year (2019) exploring methods and applications for mapping climate adaptation pathways in collaboration with stakeholders (Hobart City Council and local governments). The ideal applicant is familiar with interdisciplinary research (with an undergraduate degree in a related discipline including geography, planning, conservation, law, economics, spatial sciences, ecology) and have strong communication skills and demonstrated experience working with stakeholders. The position is supported by a UTas scholarship and fee waiver, and is open to domestic and international students.

https://secure.utas.edu.au/research/degrees/available-phd-projects/phd-projects/college-of-sciences-and-engineering/school-of-technology,-environments-and-design/geography-and-spatial-sciences/living-with-change-mapping-adaptation-pathways-and-enabling-policy/_nocache

The second PhD student will commence within the next year (2019-2020) understanding the role of place in climate adaptation. This can include (but is not limited to) mapping place attachment, landscape values, and areas at risk of loss from climate change and exploring, in collaboration with stakeholders (Hobart City Council and local governments), the role of place in shaping climate adaptation. The ideal applicant is familiar with interdisciplinary research (with an undergraduate degree in a related discipline including geography, planning, conservation, law, economics, spatial sciences, ecology) and have strong communication skills and demonstrated experience working with stakeholders. The position is supported by a UTas scholarship and fee waiver, and is open to domestic and international students.

https://secure.utas.edu.au/research/degrees/available-phd-projects/phd-projects/college-of-sciences-and-engineering/school-of-technology,-environments-and-design/geography-and-spatial-sciences/living-with-change-understanding-the-role-of-place2/_nocache

 

Investment in protected area management is often a better option than expanding protected areas

Here’s a reproduction of our Nature Sustainability Blog explaining a bit of behind the details motivations and findings of our new paper

With conservation funds in short supply, existing protected areas rarely have an adequate budget for management. This raises a critical question for decision makers: should governments and/or environmental organisations spend new funds on purchasing more land or managing existing protected areas?

Our experience working with protected area managers is that they rarely report having adequate funding, staff, or time to support required management actions like fencing protected area boundaries, removing weeds and prescribed burns.  The scientific literature supports our experiences and insights – for example 60% of protected areas in a global assessment of management effectiveness scores reported that the available budget was inadequate for basic management or that they had no management budget (the lowest possible scores under this scorecard item). This led us to ask the question: ‘when should new funds for nature conservation be spent on expansion or management?’ in our paper, “Weighing the benefits of expanding protected areas versus managing existing ones”.

With inadequate conservation resources, it’s no surprise that we see continued increases of threats to species that we are trying to protect. Some types of threats – such as deforestation, or overgrazing – can be counteracted by declaring a protected area; other threats, such as changes in fire frequency, disease outbreaks, and invasions of weeds and feral species, require active management in protected areas (Figure 1). The impacts of these different types of threats, and the actions required to mitigate them (along with the benefits and costs of action) have been well studied.  But what was not clear was how this information should be put together to help managers know when to allocate effort towards expansion or management.

blog images.jpgFigure 1. A) Image of grazed (right) versus ungrazed (left) habitat (Photo Credit: Megan Barnes). Protection (enforced by fencing where needed) can effectively stop threats like clearing and grazing.  B) Feral Cat with Galah (Photo Credit: Mark Marathon). Active management is required to stop threats such as predation by feral animals and has been shown to effectively halt predation and prevent extinctions. C) Fire maintained landscape with a fire supressed region (left) and a region with decades of prescribed fire (right)within a single protected area (Photo Credit: Gwen Iacona).  Active management is required to address threats such as inappropriate fire regimes.

We used a mathematical model to study how decisions about expansion of protected areas compared to improved protected area management.  This approach allowed us to represent the important parts of the system of interest and parameterize it in a way that provides unambiguous insight into the relevant benefits of when to manage or protect. We discovered that the relative priority of expansion and management is determined by quantifiable factors – the relative costs of the two actions and the rates of degradation in protected and unprotected areas.  In most contexts our model suggests that management should be a priority first action. However, some regions of the world such as East and West Africa and Melanesia were recommended for expansion of protected areas. These areas are characterized by low levels of existing protection and high threats of habitat loss so the benefit of protected area expansion is high.

An interesting outcome of our modelled results was that, contrary to spending patterns which focus on expansion rather than management, management is the better first investment in many contexts. And management is always a necessary complement to new acquisition. This highlights that, while our existing protected areas are an important asset, increased investment in management is essential to maximise their potential to protect biodiversity. As we head into 2020 CBD negotiations, it’s time to get serious about effective management targets. Aichi Target 11 states that:  By 2020, at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas are conserved through effectively and equitably managed protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures.  But, what does an ‘effectively managed protected area’ look like? If we can answer this, we can define SMART (specific, measurable, ambitious, realistic, and time-bound) targets to meet Aichi Target 11’s ‘effectively managed’ component.  We need a quantifiable target for effective management from the next Convention on Biological Diversity (2020 in Kunming) that will lead to more investment in management, just as the 17% protection target spurred expansion of the protected area system.

 

Land-sea Conservation Assessment for Papua New Guinea

imageWe are honored that UNDP PNG is featuring our land-sea conservation assessment on their publications site and it will be permanently housed in their publication library.  The assessment was authored by myself, Hugh Possingham, and Viv Tulloch with important contributions from James Allan, Caitie Kuempel, and collaborators at TNC, Macquarie, and Tel Aviv University.

The assessment was the culmination of work completed between 2014 – 2016 (and also built off of a marine assessment conducted by researchers at the University of Queensland).  With a permanent home on the UNDP website- it’s our hope that this assessment has the real potential to influence conservation investment in this global hotspot.

Launching a global conservation planning database

It’s been a long time coming (since my PhD days with my esteemed co-authors and good friends) but I am pleased to announce the launch of a global conservation planning database. We demonstrate its value in learning from existing plans in our paper published in Biological Conservation.

Given international policy targets and growing recognition of a biodiversity crisis, the number and total extent of protected areas is set to increase significantly in the next few decades. To ensure this planned expansion is effective in halting biodiversity loss, it is critical that new protected areas (and other conservation actions) are well designed and effectively implemented.

Systematic conservation planning (SCP), which takes into account ecological and socioeconomic aspects of conservation, is regarded as best practice for identifying conservation priorities and has been widely used to design protected area systems. Applications of SCP cover terrestrial, freshwater and marine realms, including planning initiatives in developed and developing countries across the world.

Over the last three decades, hundreds of SCP studies have been produced, yet there is no structured or reliable way of finding information on SCP methods, trends, and progress. This rapid growth in SCP literature inhibits distillation of best practices and understanding of trends in methods and applications. Furthermore, bridging the well-recognized gap between SCP research and implementation requires systematic and continuous monitoring of plan development and implementation.

The Conservation Planning Database project aims to create a global database to help track the development, implementation, and impact of SCP applications, and improve scholarship in the field. Consolidating a global database can play a critical role in advancing SCP theory and practice, thus facilitating more effective area-based conservation initiatives with real benefits for biodiversity and human well-being.

TEDx Talk: Bridging the Gap between Planning and Implementation

Ensuring my research is translated into on ground action and impact is a personal motivator.  It’s not always successful, but it’s always a goal.  In this TEDx Talk I reflect on my journey trying to bridge the gap between knowing and doing and provide some lessons learned.

TEDx abstract:

Wisdom is the ability to think and act using knowledge. But, when it comes to translating science into policy, knowing doesn’t naturally translate into doing. Inspiring action requires answering the question ‘why’? Closing the gap between knowledge and wisdom starts here, but requires answering one more question, ‘who?’. Through her journeys across northern Australia, Vanessa will talk about how to identify the who and their why to ensure that the best-laid plans translate into action. Vanessa is a lecturer in Conservation Biology at Macquarie University. Vanessa was raised in New Mexico but currently calls Australia home. She has worked in a variety of roles ranging from actuarial analyst for global consulting firm Mercer HR to research scientist at universities. Her varied training and work background influences her research approach and questions which focus on how to design and implement effective biodiversity conservation. She partners with relevant government agencies and NGOs to ensure that her research is relevant to policy makers and is positioned to influence on-ground conservation. Vanessa’s objective throughout her work is to improve the environment and the communities it supports in real and measurable ways. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at https://www.ted.com/tedx

Student projects

I am actively recruiting competitive students to my lab at University of Tasmania.  I am available to supervise Honours, Masters, and PhD research projects on conservation planning, threatened species management, environmental policy, conservation impact evaluation, natural resource management, and related fields. I have a current student project advertised on policy impact analysis. If you are interested in this project or have a project of your own you’d like to propose please get in touch to discuss ideas.