Making robust decisions for conservation with restricted money and knowledge

Authors

  • Eve McDonald-Madden,

    Corresponding author
    1. University of Queensland, Centre for Applied Environmental Decision Analysis, School of Integrative Biology, St Lucia, Qld 4072, Australia; and
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  • Peter W.J. Baxter,

    1. University of Queensland, Centre for Applied Environmental Decision Analysis, School of Integrative Biology, St Lucia, Qld 4072, Australia; and
    2. Australian Centre of Excellence for Risk Analysis, School of Botany, University of Melbourne, Parkville, 3010, Australia Vic.
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  • Hugh P. Possingham

    1. University of Queensland, Centre for Applied Environmental Decision Analysis, School of Integrative Biology, St Lucia, Qld 4072, Australia; and
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*Correspondence author. E-mail: e.mcdonaldmadden@uq.edu.au.

Summary

  • 1In conservation decision-making, we operate within the confines of limited funding. Furthermore, we often assume particular relationships between management impact and our investment in management. The structure of these relationships, however, is rarely known with certainty – there is model uncertainty. We investigate how these two fundamentally limiting factors in conservation management, money and knowledge, impact optimal decision-making.
  • 2We use information-gap decision theory to find strategies for maximizing the number of extant subpopulations of a threatened species that are most immune to failure due to model uncertainty. We thus find a robust framework for exploring optimal decision-making.
  • 3The performance of every strategy decreases as model uncertainty increases.
  • 4The strategy most robust to model uncertainty depends not only on what performance is perceived to be acceptable but also on available funding and the time horizon over which extinction is considered.
  • 5Synthesis and applications. We investigate the impact of model uncertainty on robust decision-making in conservation and how this is affected by available conservation funding. We show that subpopulation triage can be a natural consequence of robust decision-making. We highlight the need for managers to consider triage not as merely giving up, but as a tool for ensuring species persistence in light of the urgency of most conservation requirements, uncertainty and the poor state of conservation funding. We illustrate this theory by a specific application to allocation of funding to reduce poaching impact on the Sumatran tiger Panthera tigris sumatrae in Kerinci Seblat National Park.

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