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Risks, decisions and biological conservation


Correspondence: Mark A. Burgman, School of Botany, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Vic. 3010, Australia.




Risk assessments in applied scientific disciplines have evolved somewhat in isolation, adopting conventions, assumptions and tools from other disciplines almost haphazardly. This editorial provides background for the articles in this special issue, which sample six broad themes in risk assessment in conservation biology and presenting new innovations and applications.




The articles in the special issue address themes related to species distribution modelling, population viability analysis, threatened species management, biosecurity, uncertainty analysis, cost–benefit analysis and foresight. We sought articles that address new and emerging topics in each of these areas.


The articles identify new and potentially useful innovations in a variety of areas relevant to conservation biology. Collectively, they paint a picture of risk assessment as an important element in supporting transparent, rational decisions and effective policy.

Main conclusions

Policy makers and conservation managers aspire to set evidence-based priorities, and technical specialists aim to have their methods used in decision-making. Scientists will succeed if, as the articles in this issue exemplify, they develop a sound understanding of the context of the decisions in which their tools are to be used and shape them accordingly.