We are seeking a highly motivated and dynamic postdoctoral research fellow to work on developing AI specifically designed to deliver interpretable and explainable solutions to environmental decision problems.
Together with Dr Kate Helmstedt and Dr Mike Bode from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) School of mathematical sciences, Dr Sam Nicol from our team is offering a PhD scholarship to study optimal sampling and control of spatial populations in real time. It’s a great opportunity for someone with an interest in applied mathematics and ecology to come and work with our team. On top of the QUT PhD Scholarship, we’re offering a CSIRO top-up of A$7000/year to the successful candidate. If you’re interested to discuss more, get in touch! Applications close September 30, 2018.
The PhD advertisement is here:
Warmer temperatures mean more ice-free areas and increasing terrestrial habitat in Antarctica, but that’s not necessarily good news for Antarctic natives.
Queen Elizabeth National Park, Acacia brachystegia grasslands (Northern Savannah) by Andy Plumptre
In a new paper, available online now in Biological Conservations, Rocio together with researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Queensland assessed the potential impact of climate change on the distributions of ecosystems.The distribution effects that we investigated here that may result from climate change are six: contraction, expansion or shifting of existing ecosystems, creation of new ecosystems, complete destruction to ecosystems, or no change to ecosystem distribution.
Usually, assessments of climate change tend to be primarily species-focused and they do not estimate directly how entire ecosystems may change. In this paper, we use an ecosystem-based modelling approach to provide a region-wide climate change vulnerability assessment of the seven major ecosystems across Africa’s Albertine Rift. The Albertine Rift is a global biodiversity hotspot, containing more endemic vertebrates than anywhere else in Africa. We used Maxent to, first, estimate each ecosystem’s extent using current climate data, and, then, to project the potential distribution of each ecosystem for 2050 and 2070.
The results founded that suitable environmental conditions for most ecosystems are predicted to contract rapidly in extent and shift upwards in altitude. High-altitude ecosystems and the endemic species they support are at immediate risk, owing to rapid predicted shrinkage in their suitable extent. Only one of the studied ecosystems (the Combretum-grasslands savannah) was predicted to expand, with suitable conditions increasing by 32% in area by 2050. The extent and structure of boundary zones between the Rift’s ecosystems may change significantly through time, due to the contractions and shifts of the environmental conditions for existing ecosystem distributions. Sadly, by 2070, 44% of the region could be climatically unsuitable for the current ecosystems.
Conservation planning across the Rift will need to account for the ecosystem shifts and rapidly changing boundary zones to ensure the long-term persistence of the many endemic species. Beyond the Albertine Rift, this ecosystem-based modelling technique can be adapted to any terrestrial region, providing critical information for conservation vulnerability assessments.
Reference: Ponce-Reyes, R., A. J. Plumptre, D. Segan, S. Ayebare, R. A. Fuller, H. P. Possingham, and J. E. M. Watson. 2017. Forecasting ecosystem responses to climate change across Africa’s Albertine Rift. Biological Conservation 209:464-472.
We have led a value of information project to help managers of Moira Grass determine which information should be collected as a priority. The team worked very closely with domain experts to design and complete this project. Our findings indicate that management strategies targeting grazing (61% increase in total extent; 46% increase in Moira grass cover; 42% increase in thatch depth) and flood duration and depth are most likely to improve the restoration of Moira grass at the Barmah Forest (See Executive Summary below for more information).
Nicol, Sam; Stratford, Danial; Joehnk, Klaus; Chades, Iadine. Prioritising the value of information for the management of Moira grass at Barmah forest. Brisbane: CSIRO; 2017. csiro:EP17815. (CSIRO PDF report)
We have learned a lot during this project on the strengths and weaknesses of Value of Information. We will aim to publish these lessons learned in the academic literature.
Barmah Forest is a Ramsar listed wetland complex in the Murray–Darling Basin of Australia. Barmah Forest supports the largest area of Moira grass (Pseudoraphis spinescens) plains in the Murray-Darling Basin and is amongst the most southerly distribution of the species in Australia.
The plains are recognised as part of the Ramsar ecological character description of the forest. Reduction in the area of Moira grass plains has been one of the most significant long-term ecological changes within the forest. The causes of decline are uncertain Read more
Sam, Josie, Iadine, Nicole and Stephanie will test and strengthen their Conservation Technology idea through ON Prime 2!
We are very excited and can’t wait to start! We can’t say much at this stage, however we will use our social media platforms to share the different stage of our adventure.
Because conservation planning problems are not linear, an accurate linearization was required to get an efficient ILP model, i.e. running in a good computing time. Yann’s contribution was to propose an efficient linearization, and to clarify the advantages of using ILP compared to the current heuristic used in MARXAN (simulated annealing). ILP is an exact method so it always provides optimal solutions. Moreover, ILP allows to easily integrate multiple objectives and to deal with unknown instances by using robust approaches.
In conservation, ILP has been avoided for the past decades because of long computational running times. However, recent versions of linear programming software solutions include new algorithms such as new branch-and-cuts / dynamic search processes, reducing the computation time required to solve ILP problems by millions compared to the first versions.
The results are impressive and you should definitely have a look if your conservation planning problem takes too long to solve or you are uncertain about the quality of the solutions! Congratulations Yann and team!
Hawthorne L. Beyer, Yann Dujardin, Matthew E. Watts, Hugh P. Possingham, Solving conservation planning problems with integer linear programming, Ecological Modelling, Volume 328, 24 May 2016, Pages 14-22, ISSN 0304-3800, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2016.02.005.
Urgent decision making can’t wait for big data!
In this week Nature’s correspondence, Iadine and Sam raise that the shift of private and public funding towards big data problems could impact our ability to solve some of our most urgent decision problems – for which we have no or very little amount of data available: biodiversity, health and biosecurity issues to cite a few. Sam and Iadine also provide some solutions and call for big ideas. It’s free for all to read.
Chades, I. & Nicol, S. (2016) Information: Small data call for big ideas. Nature, 539, 31-31.
Iadine and Sam wrote a bigger piece on the topic. We welcome your comments: Chades, I. & Nicol, S. (2016, November 2). Small data, big ideas. Zenodo. http://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.164443
Our new paper came out in Ecological Indicators yesterday. In the paper we review the literature on metrics for managing spatially structured populations (i.e. metapopulations, migratory species populations). We ask the question: “what is the best way to measure the contribution of a habitat to the total population?” It’s a complicated question, partly because different theoretical approaches all have their preferred metrics. In the paper, we take a quick tour of graph theory, metapopulation theory and matrix models/perturbation analysis, and try to link the metrics developed in these literatures into a usable framework. We argue that the best metric depends on the management objective and the data available, and provide a simple framework for metric selection using these ideas.
The work was completed in collaboration with scientists from the US, Austria and Canada as a product of the NIMBioS Working Group on Habitat for Migratory Species. You can see their press release here.
Mobile species with complex spatial dynamics can be difficult to manage because their population distributions vary across space and time, and because the consequences of managing particular habitats are uncertain when evaluated at the level of the entire population. Metrics to assess the importance of habitats and pathways connecting habitats in a network are necessary to guide a variety of management decisions. Given the many metrics developed for spatially structured models, it can be challenging to select the most appropriate one for a particular decision. To guide the management of spatially structured populations, we define three classes of metrics describing habitat and pathway quality based on their data requirements (graph-based, occupancy-based, and demographic-based metrics) and synopsize the ecological literature relating to these classes. Applying the first steps of a formal decision-making approach (problem framing, objectives, and management actions), we assess the utility of metrics for particular types of management decisions. Our framework can help managers with problem framing, choosing metrics of habitat and pathway quality, and to elucidate the data needs for a particular metric. Our goal is to help managers to narrow the range of suitable metrics for a management project, and aid in decision-making to make the best use of limited resources.
Nicol S, Weiderholt, Diffendorfer J, Mattsson B, Thogmartin W, Semmens D, Lopez-Hoffman L, Norris DR (2016) . A management-oriented framework for selecting metrics used to assess habitat- and path-specific quality in spatially structured populations. Ecological Indicators 69: 792-802. DOI:10.1016/j.ecolind.2016.05.027
Ponce Reyes, R., Firn, J., Nicol, S., Chadès, I., Stratford, D.S., Martin, T.G., Whitten, S., Carwardine, J. (2016) Priority Threat Management for Imperilled Species of the Queensland Brigalow Belt CSIRO, Brisbane.
Perhaps the most impactful decision support tool we have developed to date, Priority Threat Management (PTM) is a team adventure where a dedicated bunch of interdisciplinary scientists and kick ass facilitator work alongside stakeholders to establish the best strategies to manage threats to biodiversity. Stay tuned as we have grand plans to improve PTM and make it available to the entire world.
I was asked to provide a list of reference on priority threat management, sharing it with you here:
Freely accessible material:
- Ponce Reyes, R., Firn, J., Nicol, S., Chadès, I., Stratford, D.S., Martin, T.G., Whitten, S., Carwardine, J. (2016) Priority Threat
Management for Imperilled Species of the Queensland Brigalow Belt CSIRO, Brisbane. (PDF) (see The Conversation article, CSIRO website)
- Firn, J., Maggini, R., Chadès, I., Nicol, S., Walters, B., Reeson, A., Martin, T. G., Possingham, H. P., Pichancourt, J.-B., Ponce-Reyes, R. and Carwardine, J. (2015), Priority threat management of invasive animals to protect biodiversity: Lake Eyre Basin ( see the Conversation article, CSIRO website with PDFs)
- Carwardine J., Nicol S., van Leeuwen S.,Walters B., Firn J., Reeson A., Martin T.G., Chades I. (2014) Priority threat management for Pilbara species of conservation significance, CSIRO Ecosystems Sciences, Brisbane. (PDF) (see The Conversation article, blog post, CSIRO website)
- Firn, J., Martin, T.G., Walters, B., Hayes, J.,Nicol, S., Chadès, I., and Carwardine, J. (2013) Priority Threat Management of invasive plants species in the Lake Eyre Basin. CSIRO Climate Adaptation Flagship Working Paper No. 17 (QUT and CSIRO) (PDF) (blog post)
- Carwardine, J., O’Connor, T., Legge, S., Mackey, B., Possingham, H.P., Martin, T.G. (2011) Priority threat management to protect Kimberley wildlife CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences, Brisbane. (PDF)
Journal paper (PDF available upon request):
- Firn, J., Maggini, R., Chadès, I., Nicol, S., Walters, B., Reeson, A., Martin, T. G., Possingham, H. P., Pichancourt, J.-B., Ponce-Reyes, R. and Carwardine, J. (2015), Priority threat management of invasive animals to protect biodiversity under climate change. Global Change Biology. doi: 10.1111/gcb.13034
- Firn, J., Martin, T. G., Chadès, I., Walters, B., Hayes, J., Nicol, S., Carwardine, J. (2015), Priority threat management of non-native plants to maintain ecosystem integrity across heterogeneous landscapes. Journal of Applied Ecology. doi: 10.1111/1365-2664.12500
- Chadés, I., Nicol, S., van Leeuwen, S., Walters, B., Firn, J., Reeson, A., Martin, T. G. and Carwardine, J. (2015), Benefits of integrating complementarity into priority threat management. Conservation Biology, 29: 525–536. doi: 10.1111/cobi.12413
- Carwardine, J., O’Connor, T., Legge, S., Mackey, B., Possingham, H.P., Martin, T.G. (2012). Prioritizing threat management for biodiversity conservation. Conservation Letters. 5:196–204 doi: 10.1111/j.1755-263X.2012.00228.x
Did you know that there are fish living in the Australian desert? Obviously, fish need water, and that’s usually scarce in the desert. However large parts of arid Australia sit over the Great Artesian Basin, which is an area where groundwater is under such pressure that if you dig a well, it’ll come to the surface all by itself… no pumping required! This is good news for fish, because weak points in the aquifer mean that water seeps to the surface and forms permanent springs in the desert. Because these springs are so isolated from other sources of fish, unique species have evolved that live only in spring complexes. One of the best looking of these fish is the red-finned blue eye, Scaturiginichthys vermeilipinnis, which lives only in springs on a single property in central western Queensland, Edgbaston Reserve. I was lucky enough to visit Edgbaston at Easter Read more
Can climate change and biodiversity loss be tackled together by restoring forests? Our recent published papers investigate how and where carbon farming in Australia can be targeted to sequester carbon and benefit wildlife and threatened ecosystems. This work is summarised by an article in The Conversation – here it is!
Farming carbon can be a win for wildlife, if the price is right
Climate change and the loss of biodiversity are two of the greatest environmental issues of our time. Is it possible to address both of those problems at once?
In Australia, farmers and landholders will this week be able to apply for payments through the Federal government’s A$2.55 billion Emissions Reduction Fund. Bidders can request funding for projects that reduce emissions using agreed methods, which include approaches relevant to the transport, waste and mining sectors, as well as the land sector: for example, by managing or restoring forests.
Forests hold carbon in vegetation and soils and provide important habitat for native wildlife. Restoring forests in areas where they have been cleared in the past could be good for the climate, good for biodiversity, and generate additional income for landholders.
How well the Emissions Reduction Fund can achieve these benefits will depend on three things: the right approach, the right price, and the right location.
… improve the protein uptake and therefore the health of millions of people globally;
…reduce the land clearing and use of pesticides while obtaining economic profit;
…reduce the carbon dioxide an methane emission
In our new paper:Exploiting a pest insect species Sphenarium purpurascens for human consumption: ecological, social, and economic repercussions published in the first issue of the Journal of Insects as Food and Feed we developed a model of sustainable exploitation for pest insect species and explore the potential benefits to humans in different areas, like health/nutrition, conservation, economy and even climate change!
Please contact me if you would like a copy of the paper!
The picture below is by Rene Cerritos the lead author of this paper.
I was fortunate to be a co-author on the paper recently published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment led by Viv and Ayesha Tulloch, “Why do we map threats? Linking threat mapping with actions to make better conservation decisions.” (see media release PDF).
This is a great thinking piece about why we should probably not use threat maps “as is” to inform conservation decisions and how threat maps should be included as part of the decision process. I would recommend reading this paper if you are new to structured decision making and would like an easy read. The authors have done a fantastic job at explaining the risk of not following a transparent decision making process.
As a side note, our priority threat management work in the Pilbara was highlighted as a good example of making transparent decisions (No doubts they are other good examples in the literature!). It’s always a privilege to be acknowledged by our peers, it’s even better when these are esteemed close collaborators. Thanks for your support!
Vivitskaia JD Tulloch, Ayesha IT Tulloch, Piero Visconti, Benjamin S Halpern, James EM Watson, Megan C Evans, Nancy A Auerbach, Megan Barnes, Maria Beger, Iadine Chadès, Sylvaine Giakoumi, Eve McDonald-Madden, Nicholas J Murray, Jeremy Ringma, and Hugh P Possingham 2015. Why do we map threats? Linking threat mapping with actions to make better conservation decisions. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 13: 91–99. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/140022
Our manuscript on how complementarity can help saving more species per dollar spent is available online. If you are interested in cost-effectiveness analysis, PPP, priority threat management, expert elicitations, or the Pilbara, have a look:
Chades, I., Nicol, S., van Leeuwen, S., Walters, B., Firn, J., Reeson, A., Martin, T. G. . and Carwardine, J. (2014), Benefits of integrating complementarity into priority threat management. Conservation Biology. doi: 10.1111/cobi.12413 (abstract) (request PDF)
This paper presents the science behind our beautiful Pilbara report.
Photo: Northern Quoll at Red Hill Homestead. Credit: Leanne Corker, Red Hill Station.
Conservation decision tools based on cost-effectiveness analysis are used to assess threat management strategies for improving species persistence. These approaches rank alternative strategies by their benefit to cost ratio but may fail to identify the optimal sets of strategies to implement under limited budgets because they do not account for redundancies. We devised a multiobjective optimization approach in which the complementarity principle is applied to identify the sets of threat management strategies that protect the most species for any budget. We used our approach to prioritize threat management strategies for 53 species of conservation concern in the Pilbara, Australia. We followed a structured elicitation approach to collect information on the benefits and costs of implementing 17 different conservation strategies during a 3-day workshop with 49 stakeholders and experts in the biodiversity, conservation, and management of the Pilbara. We compared the performance of our complementarity priority threat management approach with a current cost-effectiveness ranking approach. A complementary set of 3 strategies: domestic herbivore management, fire management and research, and sanctuaries provided all species with >50% chance of persistence for $4.7 million/year over 20 years. Achieving the same result cost almost twice as much ($9.71 million/year) when strategies were selected by their cost-effectiveness ranks alone. Our results show that complementarity of management benefits has the potential to double the impact of priority threat management approaches.
Friday 7th of November, from 3-4 pm in room GA604, ESP, Dr. Virginia Matzek (Santa Clara University, California) will present her research on “Bringing managers’ perspectives to bear on habitat restoration and ecosystem services in California and Australia”.
(beers and snacks available afterwards-as part of the social club!)
Title: Bringing managers’ perspectives to bear on habitat restoration and ecosystem services in California and Australia
Summary: This talk highlights some of the recent work my lab has done in California, as well as our planned work in Australia. The first part of the talk will treat a survey of managers’ research needs for invasive plant management in the state. As a follow-up to this work, we went to the literature to see what had actually been published relevant to California invasive plant management, and documented some mismatches in the topic, scope, and approach of scientific research, when compared with managers’ needs. The second part of the talk discusses whether managers can expect to recoup the cost of restoration of riparian forest in California via the state’s new compliance market for carbon credits. Both of these themes–the potential mismatch of perspectives, and the need to measure ecosystem services resulting from restoration–turn up in the work I’m planning to do here in Australia. I’ll close with a brief account of our proposed work surveying Australian managers and members of the general public for their perspectives on the desirability of ecosystem services as a project goal for restoration.
Bio: Virginia Matzek is an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences at Santa Clara University in California, USA. The primary focus of her lab is on linking ecosystem services to ecological restoration. A plant ecologist and biogeochemist by training, she now finds herself interested as much by why people restore ecosystems as by how they do it. She will be at CEED working with Kerrie Wilson and Marit Kragt until mid-December 2014.
2 for 1: New Zealand’s weed biocontrol in a nutshell plus a close-up examination of a case study on what we could do to overcome biocontrol scepticism
Ronny Groenteman1, Simon Fowler1, Jon Sullivan2, Yvonne Buckley3, Rob Salguero-Gómez4
1Landcare Research, 2Lincoln University, 3Trinity College Dublin, 4University of Queensland.
Biological control of weeds research in New Zealand is primarily done by a small group at the Crown Research Institute Landcare Research. In this talk I will give an overview of how our science works hand in hand with operative programmes, and will touch on why our regulatory system works well. I will then dwell on the successful programme against St. John’s wort, Hypericum perforatum – a case study selected to demonstrate the connection between biocontrol and weed populations decline. Demonstrating cause and effect in biological control is no easy undertaking yet it is crucial for us to provide strong scientific evidence of biocontrol effectiveness. The St. John’s wort project includes an intensive field experiment, multi-model inference approach to data analysis, and finally, periodic Integrated Projection Modelling approach to describe the population demography of the weed in the presence and absence of biocontrol. How effective will this undertaking be in convincing sceptics that biocontrol can work is yet to be seen. What is clear is that the resources required for such studies are vast and we must think carefully about the circumstances where this approach will advance decision making not only in a given programme, but in biocontrol science & practice a whole.