Conservation agencies spending money on land conservation or management is the primary strategy for enacting biodiversity conservation. At least, we think it enacts biodiversity conservation. The problem is, very little work has been done to attempt to gauge the effectiveness of funding biodiversity conservation efforts. I have two projects looking at different aspects of what we as society get for the money that is spent on conservation projects.
- Conservation Effectiveness
In one project I am looking at the impact of strategic decision making on the effectiveness of funding conservation projects. I worked with Michael Bode, at the University of Melbourne, to develop a game theoretic model that can be used to assess the biological conservation outcome due to spending by agencies in a multi-player system. We found that strategic interactions between organizations can influence the biodiversity outcomes and that the expected outcome is strongly dependant on the amount of priority alignment between organizations. This outcome suggests that ignoring the strategic interactions between organizations can result in drastic under or over estimates of conservation benefit.
In the other project, I am collaborating with a group of researchers on a NSF funded coupled natural and human systems grant that is examining the influence of protected area size on conservation effectiveness on Nature Conservancy preserves in Appalachia. I developed a set of models that relate satellite imagery to forest structure and composition attributes that are related to measures of conservation benefit. These models will be used to calculate the conservation benefit of protected areas as compared to non-protected areas that have been identified based on a suite of matching attributes.
Preserving land for biodiversity conservation involves tremendous monetary investment; initially for acquisition, but also continually for management.
- Optimizing Management Investment:
If the goal is to attain the biggest conservation "bang for your buck", the cost of management must be incorporated into conservation planning efforts. To this end I am developing a decision-making framework to help managers decide the schedule of management investment that will maximize long term biodiversity conservation goals.
Contemporary conservation efforts primarily involve limiting development on tracts of land in an effort to preserve the species present there. These tracts are often part of a fragmented landscape that no longer can support the large-scale ecological processes that promoted the species of interest in the first place. In these cases anthropogenic management is necessary to provide analogous processes and fulfill the conservation objective of long term protection of the species of interest . I am working with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to quantify the management effort that is needed to maintain current site condition as well as the cost of changing condition towards some future desired condition.
- Management Costs and Benefits:
One significant management cost involves treatment and prevention of invasive species infestation of conservation lands. I developed a model of site invasive plant "invadedness" (proportion invaded) based on features of the site itself, and then used data on funding for treatment of invasive plants to examine the relationship between funding and invadedness. Site size and surrounding house density predicted both how invaded a site was likely to be and how money was likely to be spent for treatment. However, there was no relationship between how invaded a site actually was and the amount of funding allocated towards treatment. This result suggests that current funding is insufficient for management, and that
- Invadedness of Conservation Lands:
of long term costs based on current funding may be an underestimate of needs.
I also expanded this analysis to examine species specific estimates of invadedness. I found that which site level predictors were important not only varied across species, but also depended on whether you were interested in predicting cover or just presence. This result is important because it shows that predictions of presence may not actually say anything useful about cover at a protected area and cover is often the management relevant measurement.
For more information see Publications
Invasive plant infestations are of conservation concern because they can negatively impact native community structure by changing ecological processes or via competitive exclusion. Plant invasions are particularly widespread in Florida, partially because of the conducive climate, and partially because of the extensive development pressure/disturbance to natural communities throughout the state. I worked on a project that mapped the occurrence and distribution of Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council listed invasive species on all of the >1800 publicly owned conservation lands in the state. The objective of the project was to develop a publicly accessible management database that could be used for treatment planning at the site scale, yet also for statewide decision making and funding allocation at the legislative level.
- Invasive Plants in Florida:
For more information see the FNAI website page for the FLinv geodatabase project: http://fnai.org/invasivespecies.cfm
The factors that influence patterns of species richness are of ongoing interest in ecology and conservation. The most species rich system in North America is the longleaf pine savanna of the Southeastern US. In this system the grass dominated herbaceous understory can have small scale species richness levels as high as 50 species per square meter. I studied how stochasticity in seed rain and recruitment microsite availability regulates seedling species richness and community composition. My work suggests that moisture regulated recruitment limitation is a driver of community diversity in this system.
- Species Diversity/ Longleaf Pine Savanna:
For more information see Publications