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Can we do better with our funds to manage biodiversity’s key threats?

Nations, regions, governments, organisations and communities around the world are increasingly concerned about declines and losses of biodiversity. For many, there are important moral and legal requirements to improve the outlook for biodiversity and avoid species extinctions. However, understanding how to best invest resources in management to improve biodiversity is far from simple. Unless we are considering the right information in a logical way, we won’t be able to make the best use of the resources we have.

The problem is complex. There are many declining species and ecosystems that we care about. Each is usually threatened by a range of processes, and lives within landscapes modified by humans. In Australia for example, most threatened species are impacted by invasive species and the modification and loss of habitat. Further, the knowledge that we have about how biodiversity is impacted by threats and how management might help, is usually held by many different people, rather than being centrally held and readily available to inform decision making. Finally, we do not have enough time, money or space to manage all threats everywhere.

A generic, flexible and fairly straightforward solution to help with this challenge is provided in a new paper out this month in the Journal of Applied Ecology. The approach, called Priority Threat Management, is designed to gather the best available information and logically prioritise efforts and funds so that they are spent in a way that maximises benefits to biodiversity, through strategically abating key threats.

The paper Priority Threat Management for biodiversity conservation: a handbook gives step by step guidance for working through the process, including defining goals and objectives; bringing together key people and information on biodiversity, threats and management; designing management strategies to address key threats and estimating their costs, benefits and feasibility; and prioritising strategies to understand which are likely to provide the greatest returns for biodiversity for the resources spent. Underpinning these steps in the PTM process is effective two-way communication amongst key stakeholders, established from the outset of the project and culminating in the integration of management priorities into existing initiatives for implementation.

The Priority Threat Management process can help answer key questions, such as:

  • What are the most important threats to reduce to ensure species persistence?
  • Which threat management strategies offer the best value for money in terms of saving the most species?
  • What is the outlook for biodiversity under a range of management scenarios?
  • How much resources do we need to ensure all species persist across a region?

This information is critical for the cost-effective management of threats to biodiversity and raising awareness about how to solve conservation challenges.

The PTM process has been tested over five large regions across Australia (e.g. Pilbara, Lake Eyre Basin) and in Canada. These studies showed that between $19-70 million each year is required for each region to manage threats in a way that enables native species can persist across landscapes.

Several additional case studies are underway in Canada, Antarctica, Australia and Indonesia. Working through the Priority Threat Management approach offers many potential benefits, including a clearer understanding of goals and objectives, more informed, transparent and defensible decisions, as well as uniting diverse stakeholders in working towards common goals.

Like all decision support tools, the PTM approach has limitations. In order to keep problems tractable it involves some generalisations of biodiversity and threat management over the region of interest, and it relies on expert estimates in the absence of scientific data on the benefits of management strategies to biodiversity. The strengths of the approach are its conceptual simplicity and adaptability to different conservation challenges. Current case studies are adapting the PTM approach to consider cultural objectives alongside biodiversity – more to come in this space soon.

For more information see the full article:

Josie Carwardine, Tara G. Martin, Jennifer Firn, Rocio Ponce Reyes, Sam Nicol, Andrew Reeson, Hedley S. Grantham, Danial Stratford, Laura Kehoe, Iadine Chadès. Priority Threat Management for biodiversity conservation: A handbook. J Appl Ecol. 2019;56:481–490.


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