Managers drive biodiversity conservation success

Conserving biodiversity, that is the full range of wild nature, often requires trying out many methods to see what works best. While the success of a conservation project is usually determined by comparing different conditions, methods and techniques, it turns out that the human component also plays surprisingly important role in the outcome of projects. We have a perspective paper in Biological Conservation, led by by Richard Primack from the Boston University, in which we highlight the importance of considering the human element of conservation when evaluating success and designing future programs. Meaningful consideration of the human dimensions in conservation will require an interdisciplinary approach. We make a case that greater integration between the social and natural sciences will improve our understanding of these systems and lead to better results.

So what made us decide to write this perspective article (other than our collective interest in the human dimensions of conservation of course)?

Our perspective article was inspired by an article that Dr Anna Sher published with colleagues in a special issue of wetlands. Anna and colleagues explored the impact of the characteristics of managers and managing organizations on vegetation restoration projects in the southwestern USA. They evaluated 243 sites where invasive tamarisk trees had been removed, measuring the recovery of native vegetation and using multivariate analysis to determine what factors predicted success (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Four stages of restoration in river woodlands invaded by tamarisk in Western USA

Along with the typical predictive measures such as climate and removal method, they included quantitative human data from surveys and interviews with the managers of all of the sites.  While environmental characteristics like temperature and precipitation were important in the successful recovery of the ecosystem, the human variables explained an even larger percentage of the variability in outcomes.  Perhaps most importantly, they found that the more collaborators there were on a project, such as different government agencies, non-profits and scientists, the better the outcomes for the plant community. These findings could radically change how conservation projects are carried out and evaluated. Human dimensions and results from other social science disciplines should be integrated much more into research designs to promote their successful implementation.

Take home message? Simple – go out and make friends and do some interdisciplinary research – if you are a social scientist find some ecologists and similarly if your an ecologist go find a social scientist. The answers to conservation success are likely to be a mix of the human and natural. We must explore both in tandem.

Another year another round of congratulations to students

Congratulations to another great round of Master students. Congrats Lykke and Thorsteinn on submitting some amazing work! This year it was all things private land conservation – Special Wildlife Reserves in Queensland and Land for Wildlife in Tasmania. Thanks also to our research partner Tasmanian Land Conservancy for Lykke’s thesis and also thanks to expert advisors at the Department of Environment and Science in Queensland for informing our survey instrument.

An important statement on Trophy Hunting by Dickman et al. and reply to defamatory press

In August, my colleague Amy Dickman led an important piece in Science on the role that trophy hunting has to play in conservation of imperiled biodiversity (  This is a contentious space and admire Amy’s thought leadership on this piece. The Science article summarizes key evidence around the role that Trophy Hunting plays in supporting conservation and also calls for the support of African countries to have self-determination in establishing policies for wildlife management.  The last two sentences of this piece strongly articulate this point:

“Crucially, as African countries call for a “New Deal” for rural communities that allows them to achieve the self-determination to sustainably manage wildlife and reduce poverty, it is incumbent on the international community not to undermine that. Some people find trophy hunting repugnant (including many of us), but conservation policy that is not based on science threatens habitat and biodiversity and risks disempowering and impoverishing rural communities.”

It is on this basis that I am a signatory of this article.

Perhaps not unexpectedly, given the contenious nature of this debate, the article has received a great deal of negative press (different to the healthy debate of peer reviewed replies that have been published by Science). This negative press includes incorrect and defamatory statements against Amy Dickman and the other lead authors. I take this opportunity to share the statement of signatories below in response to this press.

Signatory statement

We are aware that there are some false and highly misleading statements in the press, regarding our recent letter to Science about trophy hunting. These imply that the lead authors of the letter were hiding financial links with the trophy hunting industry. These allegations  are completely false. The authors have always been completely open and transparent about their interests and affiliations, including with Science. Their financial links with trophy hunting organisations are tiny to non-existent, and are certainly no stronger than their equivalent links with, say, photo-tourism organisations.

Furthermore, any suggestion that the conclusions of our letter are invalid because of perceived conflicts of interests is fundamentally incorrect. Researchers work with – and often receive grants from – a wide diversity of funders with very different beliefs on a range of topic. However, this should not even come into the debate, as we do not accept funding with strings attached and our conclusions are always based on evidence.

These false allegations are intended to discredit reputable scientists. This is not how conservation debates should happen – we should be able to discuss different views respectfully, and should not tolerate or perpetuate any attacks on scientists for stating their views. This media campaign could well be interpreted as an attempt to silence the voices of many well-respected conservationists and community representatives, who highlight the valid point that banning trophy hunting without better alternatives in place is likely to make things worse for conservation, animal welfare and local livelihoods.

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.,-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.,-environments-and-design/geography-and-spatial-sciences/living-with-change-understanding-the-role-of-place2/_nocache