iConScience at EcoTas 2017

An ensemble* of iConScientists will be presenting at EcoTas this year!

Speakers, Titles & Times

Luis Mata: Mon 12.30 Urban Ecology(1)
Bringing nature back into cities.

Florence Damiens: Tues 5.15 Putting Ecology to Work
What have we been offsetting? Understanding the evolution of  biodiversity offset policies in France and Australia.

Ascelin Gordon: Tues 5.00 Putting Ecology to Work 
The challenge of no net loss: a framework for evaluating biodiversity offset policies.

Holly Kirk: Tues 5.00 Freshwater and Marine Ecology  
Structural equation models for understanding decision making in movement ecology: A seabird case study.

Georgia Garrad : Weds 11.15 Communicating Ecology  
We need to talk about talking about triage OR The way we say stuff matters.

Lindall Kidd: Weds 12.45 Communicating Ecology 
Messaging matters: maximizing impact in conservation campaigns.

Emily Gregg: Weds 12.50 Communicating Ecology  
What are the barriers to community buy-in of threatened species conservation in Australia?

Freya Thomas: Weds 4.00 Effectiveness Monitoring  
A field ecologist’s adventures in the virtual world: using simulations to design data collection.


Monday – 

Luis Mata

Bringing nature back into cities

Nature in cities provides a remarkable range of benefits to humans and other species. The experience of nature in cities has positive effects on people’s physiological and psychological health, and the health and wellbeing of urban residents has been correlated with the amount, proximity and access to urban nature. Importantly, nature is fundamental to engage people with local Indigenous knowledge, and plays a key role in supporting biodiversity in urban landscapes, including threatened species. For these reasons, there is growing global enthusiasm for bringing nature back into cities and associated interest from planning, landscape and health practitioners seeking to incorporate nature into the design of cities.

Here we provide a perspective on recent developments revolving around the idea of bringing nature back into cities, highlighting the need to move beyond rewilding and reintroduction strategies that do not consider crucial cultural dimensions such as Indigenous ontologies and the challenges and opportunities of brokering local Indigenous knowledge. We introduce a decision-making framework to assess the ecological, social, cultural and economic suitability of species to be brought back into cities, and present examples that demonstrate how key variables (e.g. species charisma, dispersal potential, cultural significance) can be parameterised. We conclude by discussing the types of actions available to decision-makers who wish to ‘bring back nature’, including nature-based solutions, metanetworks, biodiverse-greening, biodiversity sensitive urban design and safeguarding ‘Iconic’ species in schools, as well as the theoretical and methodological advances needed to move forward the ‘bringing nature back into cities’ research and practitioner agenda.

Urban Ecology
Monday, November 27, 2017
11:00 AM – 1:00 PM
Bimbadeen Room


Tuesday – 

Florence Damiens

What have we been offsetting? Understanding the evolution of biodiversity offset policies in France and Australia

Biodiversity offsetting is generally presented as a biodiversity conservation tool created to compensate for biodiversity losses due to development. While the political origin of biodiversity offsetting and its international success have already been documented, little research has been done to understand how and why the concept of biodiversity offsetting has actually changed through time once materialized in different socio-political contexts; and to link these changes to their ecological consequences. This study participates in filling this knowledge gap. We use a policy analysis approach and qualitative methods (semi-structured interviews with key actors involved in the field of offsetting and document analysis) to understand how and why the definition of offsetting, its objectives and its mechanisms have been changing through time in two key socio-political contexts: Australia (Victoria) and France.

This analysis allows us to investigate how and why the idea of offsetting has been differently interpreted across time in both contexts and to discuss the ecological consequences of these interpretations and their changes. The study provides new insights to understand state, national, international and global trends associated with conservation in general and offsetting in particular. It shows how the way offset policies have been defined and implemented in the studied contexts are intimately related to social representations, institutional legacy as well as political and governance shifts occuring at different scales. Far from being consensual, biodiversity offset policies reflect the power dynamics present in the contexts they are embedded in, leading to uncertain long-tem ecological consequences.

SYMPOSIUM: Putting ecology to work at the land development frontier
Tuesday, November 28, 2017
4:00 PM – 6:00 PM
Sugarloaf Room


Ascelin Gordon

The challenge of no net loss: a framework for evaluating biodiversity offset policies

The decline of biodiversity globally has resulted in many governments, banks and corporations developing policies designed to achieve “no net loss” of biodiversity in the face of development, often utilizing offsets. Evaluating the outcomes of such policies poses significant challenges. This is due to the different time scales involved in generating biodiversity losses and gains, along with a lack of resources to collect evaluation data at appropriate scales. In these cases, the use of ex-ante evaluation—designed to predict the future outcomes of a policy—is the most viable evaluation option, necessitating the use of modelling and simulation approaches. Here we develop a formal approach for evaluating no net loss policies, focusing on the use of biodiversity offsetting. We provide ex-ante evaluations based on simulations to illustrate the following key issues: (i) the importance of defining appropriate counterfactuals for determining the development impact and the additionality of the offset, and the consequences of inappropriate choices of counterfactuals; (iii) the fact there are three scales at which offsetting activities can be evaluated (site, program and landscape), and how the this choice of scale affects the evaluation of policy outcomes; (iii) the implications of different types of offset activities (such as delivering restoration gains or generating avoided losses) for delivering no net loss. We discuss these issues in the context of offset policies in Australia, and the key challenges they imply of achieving no net loss of biodiversity into the future.

SYMPOSIUM: Putting ecology to work at the land development frontier
Tuesday, November 28, 2017
4:00 PM – 6:00 PM
Sugarloaf Room


Holly Kirk

Structural equation models for understanding decision making in movement ecology: A seabird case study

Behavioural decisions made by individual animals can have a critical impact on future breeding success and survival. This is particularly true for long-lived species, such as migratory seabirds. Analyses of multi-year behavioural datasets enable us to understand the interactions between the timing and outcome of different life-history events as a first step towards understanding decision making in these species.

Data were collected from 126 individual Manx shearwaters (Puffinus puffinus) on five breeding colonies over a seven year period. Machine-learning methods were used to identify the timing of key breeding and migratory events from geolocation and saltwater immersion loggers. Interactions between the timing of these events, migratory route and the degree to which behavioural strategies are conserved between individuals were investigated using structural equation modelling. This approach also allowed the inclusion of environmental variables (such as sea-surface temperature, wind direction and speed) in order to understand the contribution of abiotic conditions to the cycle of ecological carry-over effects.

The timing of departure from the overwintering area had a strong carry-over effect on other events. Departure date largely dictated the route taken to the breeding colony and the subsequent body condition on return to the colony. This type of information is crucial for our understanding of how behavioural ecology and the environment can influence individual movement decisions as well as understanding how populations of long-lived species will respond to environmental change.

Marine and Freshwater Ecology
Tuesday, November 28, 2017
4:00 PM – 6:00 PM
Cypress #2


Wednesday – 

Georgia Garrard

We need to talk about talking about triage OR The way we say stuff matters

The words and ideas we use to talk about something (frames) can change the way people respond to it. Some people know this (i.e. politicians, advertisers, marketers) and use it to help their cause. But those of us who hope to look after animals and other living things that are not human (conservation scientists) are still learning to make the most of it. In this study, we looked at how using different ideas (or frames) to talk about a (threatened) animal made people think about how important that animal is and whether its place in the world (i.e. its existence) is more important than building a new mine. We found that the type of person they were changed the way people responded to different words and ideas (frames), but that suggesting that it is alright to give up on the animal (i.e. using a species-triage frame) almost always made people think the animal was less important.

This abstract has been prepared using the Up-Goer Five challenge. Words in brackets are not within the top ten hundred most used words in the English language, but may be useful in helping to provide some conservation context in this example.

SYMPOSIUM: Communicating ecology to a broad audience – novel ideas and approaches
Wednesday, November 29, 2017
11:00 AM – 1:00 PM
Wattagan Room


Emily Gregg

What are the barriers to community buy-in of threatened species conservation in Australia?

Up Goer 5 Challenge Title: What is stopping people from saving animals?

Saving animals is important for both the world and us, and we need normal people to understand this and play their part for everything to work out. But first we need to understand what exactly is stopping people from doing things to help save animals. I looked at possible problems and suggest that they fit into three types: how people look at the world, being far away from the problem, and whether there is a clear thing to do. I believe that using the right words and ideas in our writing can help with all three types of problems. Understanding what is stopping people from helping is important for our work and should help us make better calls about how to write and speak to people about saving animals.

This abstract was prepared using the Up Goer 5 Challenge – using only the top ten hundred most commonly used words in the English language.

SYMPOSIUM: Communicating ecology to a broad audience – novel ideas and approaches
Wednesday, November 29, 2017
11:00 AM – 1:00 PM
Wattagan Room


Lindall Kidd

Messaging matters: maximizing impact in conservation campaigns

Human actions are accelerating extinction rates worldwide and there is a growing awareness that changes in human behaviour are necessary for biodiversity protection. Despite an increased understanding of how messaging influences environmental behavior, strategies guiding conservation messaging are often not evidence-based. To clarify current understanding about the use of messaging in conservation, we conducted a systematic review of research relating to conservation messaging. We examined critical aspects of messaging, including the purpose, action, audience and evaluation. We found that, as expected, interest in this topic has increased recently within the conservation research community. Message framing and marketing were the most commonly used theories, highlighting the growing emphasis that marketing, and the careful framing of messages may play in developing strategic campaigns. However, we also identified a number of research gaps that present exciting opportunities for conservation research. For example, half of the studies investigated did not draw on an established theory or identify a target audience or evaluation strategy: key standards for communications research. We draw on multiple disciplines, including marketing, psychology and communication, with a focus on their application to environmental problems.

SYMPOSIUM: Communicating ecology to a broad audience – novel ideas and approaches
Wednesday, November 29, 2017
11:00 AM – 1:00 PM
Wattagan Room


Freya Thomas

A field ecologist’s adventures in the virtual world: using simulations to design data collection

Ecologists commonly collect field data. How can we know if we are collecting enough? Pilot studies and power analysis help us figure this out. Unfortunately, in practice this can be challenging. Ecologists increasingly use datasets collected over complicated ecological gradients that require complex analyses. Traditional power analyses are often poorly suited to these problems. For example, questions such as ‘what’s a good sample size?’ are often really ‘what’s a good design for a multi-level model?’. I will demonstrate a flexible simulation approach designed to have field realism. I will explain a case study which aimed to use a multi-species non-linear growth model to predict heights of plant species in the Victorian Mallee.

The Mallee is vast and heterogeneous – not all species are in the same place, and some species are harder to find than others. Our simulation revealed that multi-species growth models require relatively intensive data collection for adequate sample sizes – and when practical field constraints (travel time, measuring time, species detection) are not taken into account, the field time needed is underestimated. I hope to provide a convincing argument that using simulations to design field based research or monitoring not only gives insight analogous to that of traditional power analysis but can also be incredibly valuable for estimating field costs and making research decisions. This approach is relevant to researchers but also individuals or organisations responsible for designing field programs with limited and/or transparent budgets.

SYMPOSIUM: Effectiveness Monitoring (Part 2)
Wednesday, November 29, 2017
4:00 PM – 6:00 PM
Sugarloaf Room


*check out storify for collective nouns used for groups of scientists


Supporting the long-term stewardship of privately protected areas

Thousands of rural landholders across Australia have entered into permanent conservation agreements to protect Australia’s unique flora and fauna. By turning their properties into privately protected areas (PPA), landholders are providing stewardship of our natural heritage that benefits society. But how can we as a society better support these landholders? Lab members Matthew Selinske, Mat Hardy, and Ascelin Gordon provide some answers to this question in a recently published policy brief Supporting the long-term stewardship of privately protected areas.

PPAs are an increasingly popular approach in global conservation efforts, and Australia has one of the largest PPA networks in the world. Recently, the IUCN PPA Specialist Group met in Germany to develop best practice guidelines, which will serve as a guide to how PPAs are implemented in the future. There are several key elements to PPAs – identifying land with conservation value, protecting it, and then looking after it with appropriate stewardship. Landholders enroll in PPA programs for varying reasons, but beyond the initial sign up, supporting them is important for ensuring ongoing stewardship. PPA landholders are diverse and the landscapes in which PPAs sit are dynamic. Properties change ownership over time, and as the needs of landholders change, stewardship of PPAs is best supported through multiple policy mechanisms. The concept of intergenerational stewardship is critical to the long-term effectiveness to PPA programs, and can assist in meeting the challenges facing PPAs.

This policy brief explores the key drivers of landowner participation in PPA programs (i.e. covenants, easements, servitudes and other long-term agreements with individuals or groups of landowners) and the program mechanisms that maintain successive generations of landowners to be engaged and committed to long-term stewardship. It also considers the challenges faced by PPA programs in developing and maintaining strong collaborative arrangements between the stakeholders involved in these programs.

Also, keep an eye out for the September issue of Decision Point where the ICSRG lab discusses PPA stewardship in greater detail.


Selinske, M., Hardy, M., Gordon, A., & Knight, A. (2017, August 17). Policy brief for Privately Protected Areas Futures 2017: Supporting the long-term stewardship of privately protected areas. Retrieved from osf.io/znsdq


The Victorian Biodiversity Conference 6th – 7th February 2018

After a successful inaugural Victorian Biodiversity Conference earlier this year, a group of motivated students and early career researchers from a wide range of Victorian Universities (RMIT, La Trobe, Monash, Federation, Charles Sturt, Melbourne, Deakin) have begun planning our next conference to be held early February 2018 at La Trobe University, Melbourne (https://www.vicbiocon.com).


Halgania cyanea (Boraginaceae) from the Victorian Mallee

This event aims to be a low cost and accessible conference to promote networking between graduate and postdoctoral researchers, as well as practitioners in government and NGOs working on research related to Victorian biodiversity.

The conference will provide an important and rare opportunity for young researchers to hear from government, industry and non-governmental organisations, as well as foster inter-University interactions through a series of plenaries, invited talks, workshops and networking opportunities.


A bee on a daisy in the Victorian Alps

We are organising!
Get your abstracts ready, and stay tuned for further updates!
Visit our website: https://www.vicbiocon.com



Transforming urban gardeners into land stewards

by Laura Mumaw


The American conservationist Aldo Leopold wrote about the importance of practicing a ‘land ethic’, adopting personal responsibility for the health of the land – the soils, waters, plants and animals of a place – for the good of the community. Private land stewardship, caring for native flora and fauna on one’s property, has long been promoted in rural settings as a valuable contribution to conservation. By contrast in cities, conservation activities and research have focused on public land. Indeed, it has been suggested that urban landowners are unlikely to demonstrate the levels of land stewardship found rurally for lack of opportunity or the stronger place meanings and sense of place found in the country.

I interviewed 16 members of a municipal wildlife gardening program (Knox Gardens for Wildlife) in Melbourne Australia to understand how participation affected their reported gardening purpose and practice, and attachments to place and nature. Using inductive analysis and a definition of land stewardship derived from Aldo Leopold that includes purposes as well as activities, I developed a model for the development of urban land stewardship (below). It includes an initiation phase that introduces participants to stewardship and their potential to contribute, followed by a development phase where connections to place deepen; stewardship knowledge, competences and activities strengthen; and commitment to stewardship increases.


A model for the development of urban private land stewardship

Results show that urban wildlife gardening programs can foster residential land stewardship through learning by doing. Visible community involvement and endorsement of one’s contribution are key, and connections to nature, place and community occur as part of the process.

You can read the article here or feel free to email me at laura.mumaw@rmit.edu.au for a copy.

Citation:  Mumaw L. (Online, 26 May 2017) Transforming urban gardeners into land stewards. Journal of Environmental Psychology. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvp.2017.05.003

Biodiversity Research and Monitoring Forum in The City of Melbourne

Members of the ICS research group recently attended The Biodiversity Research and Monitoring Forum held by The City of Melbourne – a day of discussions about biodiversity research in the urban area of Melbourne. It was a fantastic day to meet practitioners, decision makers and researchers working in Melbourne.

Figure 2

A figure from a recently published report showing The City of Melbourne extent and some green spaces recently surveyed for biodiversity.

Three members of ICS spoke about projects underway in the City that revolve around increasing biodiversity and human well being in Melbourne’s urban area.

Sarah Bekessy presented research led by Luis Mata* that aims to quantify biodiversity changes in a network of greening intervention sites.

With the rapid and pervasive urbanisation of the planet, urban ecosystems are increasingly being valued for their biodiversity, human health and wellbeing outcomes. Enthusiasm for greening in cities is growing around the world, as is interest from conservation scientists and stakeholders working in urban environments to incorporate greening into the design of cities. Yet, while a strong body of evidence is mounting for the social and ecological co-benefits of existing urban green spaces, very few studies have quantified the changes in biodiversity that may occur after a greening intervention takes place, and no studies have investigated these changes in a systematic, experimental way using standardised survey methodologies across a wide range of different interventions.


A honeyeater seen in a newly ‘greened’ space.  Photo: Luis Mata

Luis’ research has been specifically conceived to quantify the before and after changes in biodiversity resulting from a series of greening intervention sites that are presently been undertaken across a series of urban green spaces in Metropolitan Melbourne. With the support of the National Environmental Science Programme – Clean Air and Urban Landscapes Hub industry, government and community partners, a Network of Greening Intervention Sites (NGIS) has been established, including numerous sites in the City of Melbourne. These sites will be used to demonstrate the positive outcomes that greening has on beneficial insect, including native pollinators such as bees and butterflies, birds and other taxa. Findings will help guide management actions aimed at supporting existing biodiversity and bringing locally extinct species back into our cities.

* contributing researchers: Ashley Olson, Anna Backstrom, Tessa Smith, Kirsten Parris and Sarah Bekessy.

Holly Kirk presented research on behalf of a number of collaborators* entitled Our City’s Little Gems.

Following the success of “The Little Things that Run the City” insect ecology, biodiversity and conservation research project (2015-16), the Interdisciplinary Conservation Science Research Group at RMIT University and the City Of Melbourne extended this research to include butterflies. In addition to being eye-catching animals, butterflies play a key role as pollinators. Yet, despite their visibility, relatively little is known about the interactions between different plant and butterfly species, particularly in urban habitats with a mix of native and introduced vegetation.


Vanessa kershawi – photo: Luis Mata

During January 2017, flower and butterfly surveys were conducted in 15 public green spaces across the City of Melbourne, observing over 20 000 flowers in bloom. Of the 21 butterfly species or species groups identified from historic records, eleven were observed during these surveys. From these data key plant-butterfly interactions have been identified. These will help provide recommendations which can be used to guide management actions and strategies aimed at strengthening existing butterfly populations, and potentially attract additional butterfly species into the city.

* contributing researchers: Tessa Smith, Anna Backstrom, Alejandra Morán-Ordóñez, Georgia Garrard, Ascelin Gordon, Christopher Ives, Sarah Bekessy and Luis Mata.

Freya Thomas presented on behalf of a range of collaborators and industry partners* a new project about Designing green spaces for biodiversity and human wellbeing.

The health and wellbeing of urban residents is intrinsically linked to urban green spaces and their biodiversity. Yet, very little is known about the causal mechanisms and pathways linking green space design to biodiversity and human wellbeing benefits. The ‘Designing green spaces for biodiversity and human wellbeing’ ARC-Linkage Project proposes to untangle some of these mechanisms though strong industry partnerships with The City of Melbourne, Arup, Phillip Johnson Landscapes and Greening Australia. Through an experimental approach revolving around modular green space plots the project aims to: (1) investigate the mechanisms linking green space design to biodiversity outcomes; (2) investigate the mechanisms linking green space to human wellbeing; and (3) develop best practice urban design guidelines that reflect these mechanisms and supports biodiversity and human wellbeing.


Happy members of our research team talking about designing green spaces for biodiversity and human well-being. 

Initial concepts were presented of the experimental approach based on controlled, manipulative field experiments, as well as the conceptual framework, which links green space design to (1) biodiversity, through the ecological niche theory; and (2) human wellbeing, through the stress reduction and attention restoration theories. Understanding the causal links between urban design and benefits to biodiversity and human wellbeing is critical to underpin evidence-based policy around green spaces. The findings from this research will enable industry partners, including the City of Melbourne, to demonstrate the value of good urban design and access to nature, thereby raising the profile of urban biodiversity for city residents and exploring the potential for new opportunities for urban greening.

* contributing researchers and partners: Luis Mata, Katherine Berthon, Adrian Dyer, Fiona Fidler, Richard Fuller, Jair Garcia, Georgia Garrard, Ascelin Gordon, Vaughn Greenhill, Lee Harrison, Dieter Hochuli, Christopher Ives, Sacha Jellinek, Phillip Johnson, Cecily Maller, Rodney van der Ree, Rob Turk and Sarah Bekessy.

The Biodiversity Research and Monitoring Forum in The City of Melbourne was a great space to communicate our research and hear about other research going on in The City.



Dividing lines in conservation

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 11.51.47 amAs members of an interdisciplinary lab, I initially thought our views of conservation would be a little more divergent. But, after taking the Future of Conservation Survey (like a personality test for conservationists), it seems we collectively straddle the left-hand side of the Conservation and Capitalism x-axis; meaning that we view natural and social systems as inseparable and intertwined. We fell into the New Conservationists or Critical Social Science groupings (for a comprehensive breakdown of the groupings visit the description page).

Where we differ and only just slightly, are in our views the roles that market-based mechanisms, ecosystem services and corporations play in conservation. Our group is made up of wayward physicists, ecologists, political scientists, and practitioners whose epistemologies for the most part reflect pragmatism rather than strict ideologies and I guess this pragmatism is the reason why we were all mostly aligned.

As you can see from my red dot on the graph I fall in the upper left quadrant, the New Conservation “camp”, but only just so. There were certain statements in the questionnaire such as “Economic arguments for conservation are risky because they can lead to unintended negative conservation outcomes” that I think most conservationists agree with even if they, as I do, support the limited use of financial instruments or economic case for the conservation of biodiversity. Economic incentives can work but they often do not (Lim et al. 2017, Selinske et al. 2017)—context matters.

At least from the snapshot of other’s results that took the test before me, it seems that most would agree with Georgina Mace’s Science editorial Whose Conservation? in which she posits that we are currently in a People and Nature framing of conservation, celebrating interdisciplinarity, both social and ecological sciences and concepts of change such as resilience and adaptability; rejecting a nature for people and “Half-Earth” framing of conservation. The debates that mark conservation—new conservation vs. traditional conservation; land-sparing vs. land sharing—are not black or white and it is likely that many conservationists have nuanced views of conservation, and fall across the spectrum.

Debates are a fixture of conservation science, because we are passionate about our work and the direction of conservation as evidenced by our recent disagreement with an article published by Peter Karieva and Emma Fuller. Conservation practice emerged as a ‘big tent’ movement encompassing the divergent views of visionaries such as Muir, Pinchot, and Leopold, and this continued diversity in conservation science should be supported, critiqued and embraced as the conservation community for some time will remain an assemblage of philosophies and approaches to conservation policy and implementation.

Wildlife gardening for conservation in cities

by Laura Mumaw

Eastern spinebill in a Victorian garden (Photo by Patrick Kavanagh)

In this article we explore how the Knox Gardens for Wildlife program, a collaboration between a municipality (Knox City Council) and community group (Knox Environment Society) in greater Melbourne involves residents in gardening to help conserve indigenous biodiversity. We used semi-structured interviews and Council survey data to identify key program features that engaged and supported members to modify their gardening: on site garden assessment; community nursery; communication hubs; a framework that fosters experiential learning and community linkages; and endorsement of each garden’s potential contribution. We discuss the implications for managing urban landscapes for biodiversity conservation.

Click here for the full article or feel free to email me at laura.mumaw@rmit.edu.au for a copy.


Mumaw L, Bekessy S. (Online) Wildlife gardening for collaborative public–private biodiversity conservation. Australasian Journal of Environmental Management.