Where the wild things are: how nature might respond as coronavirus keeps humans indoors

AP News

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Intriguing things sometimes happen in places deserted by people. Plants creep back, animals return and, slowly, birdsong fills the air.

The coronavirus pandemic means public spaces the world over have been temporarily abandoned. Major roads are all but empty and public squares are eerily quiet.

In response, nature is in some cases “taking over towns”. Some reports – such as dolphins spotted in Venice – are fake news. But others are legitimate.

A puma has been spotted roaming the streets of Santiago and wild turkeys are gallivanting in Oakland, California. Monkeys have reclaimed city streets in Thailand and deer are wandering through train stations and down roads in Japan.

Of course, COVID-19 has taken a devastating toll on humanity, and this is nothing to be celebrated. But as Australians stay at home and our streets fall quiet, let’s consider how wildlife might respond.

Animals the world over are creeping back into cities deserted due to COVID-19.

The resilience of nature

Throughout history, nature has shown a propensity for reclaiming land once humans have departed.

At Chernobyl, for instance, radiation has not been enough to suppress populations of gray wolves, raccoon dogs, Eurasian boar and red fox.

Likewise the Korean demilitarised zone has become a refugia for numerous threatened species, including red-crowned cranes.

Ecological succession can occur when humans abandon cities. This is where short-lived “pioneer” species initially occupy sites and are replaced over time by shrubs and trees, ultimately supporting more diverse wildlife.

It’s hard to predict exactly how healthy and biodiverse these systems can become, but they will almost certainly be examples of “novel ecosystems”, having crossed irreversible thresholds due to human impact, such as vegetation reclaiming an abandoned building.

A butterfly on a floor in front of visitors in protective shoes at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in April 2018. SERGEY DOLZHENKO/EPA

Quieter, darker, greener cities

Cities can be hostile places for urban wildlife due to fragmented habitat, pollution, road collisions and disturbance from and conflict with people. But under a coronavirus lockdown, these threats are greatly reduced.

For example, decreases in economic activity in Europe and China have led to improvements in air pollution, which is known to badly affect urban birds. However, this effect might not last long enough to allow for recovery of sensitive bird species; emissions in China are already rising again.

Light pollution may also fall in cities as a result of coronavirus – such as if office buildings turn off overnight lighting and sportsgrounds are empty.

This would benefit nocturnal species such as moths and bats. Artificial light can interfere with reproduction, predator and prey interactions, and migration.

At the end of March, traffic congestion in Sydney and Melbourne was reportedly down more than 30% on last year. Fewer cars and trams would benefit species that communicate acoustically (such as frogs and birds).

Empty roads near Circular Quay in Sydney on March 27 this year. JAMES GOURLEY/AAP

Fewer people actively using city spaces may mean less disturbance of urban bird nesting sites, especially those that are routinely removed from commercial properties.

Depending on whether authorities see weed control as an “essential service”, streets may soon look a bit greener.

Weeds often get a bad rap for taking over gardens and roadsides. However, some, such as dandelions, provide excellent flowering resources for native bees, butterflies and birds.

Deserted roads could potentially add to existing wildlife “corridors” or strips of vegetation along rivers and streams. This would allow species to move from one place to another – potentially recolonising areas.

What next?

Once traffic returns to levels observed before the pandemic, we should preserve observed animal movements using safe passage strategies such as vegetated overpasses that connect bisected habitat or adequately sized underpasses to allow wildlife to safely cross under large, busy roads.

Nature can reclaim places that have been totally abandoned for years, creating novel ecosystems.
Pixabay, CC BY

In the longer term, this crisis may bring innovation in business communication and human behavioural change – including reduced work travel. This could influence land-use changes in cities, potentially giving space back to nature.

The current need for people to stay at home might be triggering a human disconnection from nature. In some cases, this can lead people to become emotionally distanced from what happens to their natural environment. This could be ameliorated by exercising in local parks or other natural environments.

You can also use your time at home to positively contribute to wildlife in your urban area. If you’re looking to keep kids entertained, try developing a “renaturing” plan that aims to care for, or bring back, a species or ecosystems.

There are also many ways to retrofit your home, garden or balcony to help plants and animals.

Or discover the incredible species living alongside us by simply paying attention to nature near your home.

Sarah Bekessy, Professor in Sustainability and Urban Planning, Leader, Interdisciplinary Conservation Science Research Group (ICON Science), RMIT University; Alex Kusmanoff, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Inter-disciplinary Conservation (ICON) Science Research Group, RMIT University; Brendan Wintle, Professor in Conservation Ecology, School of BioSciences, University of Melbourne; Casey Visintin, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, School of BioSciences, University of Melbourne; Freya Thomas, Research Fellow, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University; Georgia Garrard, Senior Research Fellow, Interdisciplinary Conservation Science Research Group, RMIT University; Katherine Berthon, PhD Candidate, RMIT University; Lee Harrison, Honorary Associate, University of Melbourne; Matthew Selinske, Postdoctoral research associate conservation science, RMIT University, and Thami Croeser, Research Officer, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Nurturing Nature, designing a home with biodiversity in mind: Sanctuary Magazine

Here at ICON Science we are passionate about conservation of biodiversity, both outside of cities and within. Georgia Garrard et al (2018) published their thoughtful paper Biodiversity Sensitive Urban Design which aims to question how we plan, design and build cities so that they make a positive, on-site contribution to biodiversity and encourage everyday access to nature for residents. 

Screen Shot 2020-03-11 at 7.01.17 pm

Exert from Sanctuary piece

Recently, Sarah, Georgia and others published an article in Sanctuary Magazine entitled ‘Nurturing Nature, designing a home with biodiversity in mind’ in which we explain how to systematically think about incorporating biodiversity sensitive design into houses.

Please have a read and get inspired to welcome biodiversity into your life to enjoy the benefits of connection to everyday nature!


Help save wildlife in your own backyards

‘Eco-anxiety’ is a term that describes the sense of despair for the state of the planet that has settled on many of us since the Australian summer of bushfires. Aside from broader concerns about climate change, many of us have a feeling of helplessness knowing that over 1 billion animals perished in the fires and now that 113 species are closer to extinction and need urgent assistance.

People living in cities might understandably feel even more helpless, given the physical distance to the fire zones. Many people have donated money to organisations to support wildlife in the fire zones. But there is more we can do in our own backyards to support fire affected species. 

A group of ecologists from RMIT University and the University of Melbourne, including researchers from the CAUL and TSR Hubs, have outlined things city folk can do in their own backyards to help 10 species threatened by the recent bushfires that also occur in urban areas. Read about it in our Conversation piece. 

The article has now been read by over over 11,000 people and shared via radio interviews including with ABC South-East NSW and on the nationally broadcast “Weekends” program with Andrea Gibbs (ABC Perth, from 1:19:48).

Trees are hot news this year

Danish Street Trees

Danish Street Trees. Image: Thami Croeser

First it was the hopeful-but-questionable ‘One Trillion Trees’ initiative, announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos, with supporters as diverse as Jane Goodall and Donald Trump. At the same time, large areas of Australia were on fire – in total, estimates are that we lost 20% of our forest cover in the climate-change-driven ‘Black Summer’ fires that only recently subsided.

Recent collaborative research from our lab brings the focus back onto our urban trees. While a few billion hectares of new forest may slightly slow climate change at a macro level, we also need immediate solutions in our cities. In the places that most of us live and work, trees have an important role to play in helping us adapt to the warming (and flooding) that’s already locked in.

The thing is, we’re losing quite a lot of trees to construction, and even well-resourced teams are working hard to keep ahead of losses. In a new paper, Thami Croeser (ICON Science) led a team which found that The City of Melbourne has lost over 10,000 street trees in the decade of 2008-2017; 2000 of these were within 10m of a major development.


The good news is most of these were small trees, possibly reflecting the city’s tough controls on tree removal.  The original research was published in Sustainable Cities and Society; we also had media pickup from The Conversation and Domain, where we talk a bit about how improvements in tree planting, tree protection and building greening can all play a role in keeping our cities green as they grow.

Thami Croeser


ICON at VicBioCon & ASC Conferences 2020

Over the past month a few of us ICON scientists have had the pleasure of attending, and presenting at multiple conferences, both located at Monash University in Clayton, Melbourne.

First up, the Victorian Biodiversity Conference 2020 on the 6th-7th of February was yet again a fantastic opportunity to network and learn more about the exciting local research and conservation work going on in Victoria. Congratulations to the organising committee (including ICON members, Katherine, Marco, Roshan, Emily, Freya and Matthew) for a great few days. Highlights included Dr Jen Martin‘s plenary on her journey to science communication, Amos Atkinson and Mick Bourke’s plenary on First Nation peoples’ perspectives on land and fire management, and seeing our fellow ICON members presenting their research!

In the Climate Change & Species Resilience session, Matthew presented on Landholder perceptions of climate change and its implications for biodiversity management on private lands.

In the Environmental Policy & Decision Making session, Mat presented on Identifying the role and capacity of local government to support private land conservation. Marco presented on Biodiversity and ecosystem services in strategic environmental assessment: A review of six Australian cases, and Roshan presented on Evaluating the impact of private protected areas (as well as a poster in the poster session!).

In the Science Communication & Community Engagement session, Emily presented on whether common names influence willingness to conserve threatened species, and Alex presented Five lessons for more effective biodiversity conservation message framing (as well as a poster!).

Last but not least, in the Urban Ecology & Conservation session, Katherine presented on Plant-insect dating in urban squares: exploring the influence of design on interactions.

Emily was also lucky enough to spend the following week at the Australian Science Communicators Conference 2020. Highlights included networking with a wide range of science communicators, Stephen Oliver’s plenary on broadcasting for impact, and Anthony Boxshall’s presentation on making impact with science in the Board and Executive rooms!

Emily also again presented her research on whether common names influence willingness to conserve threatened species.


Well done to all presenters and thank you to everyone who made these two conferences such a joy to attend!

ICON’s Highlights of 2019

It’s been a big year here at ICON Science. We’ve started new projects, celebrated completed PhDs, attended a variety of conferences and had the pleasure of hosting many visiting researchers. But we’ve had our share of frustrations, and many trying days battling with R code, Reviewer 2 and planetary despair.

But rather than letting the unticked boxes on our overly optimistic yearly to-do lists hang over our heads, we’re going to end the year celebrating our wins! In this blog post we’re taking the opportunity to celebrate our highlights for the year, ranging from accepted articles and theses (!), to the absolute joy of being outside in the field.

Nothing can really top finishing my PhD but also a few research papers came out this year that were the outcomes of fun, long term collaborations on privately protected area research in Australia (Selinske et al. 2019), and prediction in social-ecological systems (Travers et al. 2019). Another highlight was working with Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water, and Planning to start considering how we can better link the outcomes of behaviour change programs to biodiversity impacts. Finally, very pleased and grateful to be starting a postdoctoral research position in the new year! – Matthew S.

The highlight of my year is being back in the field with my trusty camera! Oh, how I love taking photos of plants and insects and I feel eternally grateful that I have a job that actually requires me to go out every two weeks into nature. I am one lucky duck. Below is a teaser of some of the little critters I have encountered this year, but stay tuned for an informative 2020 as we finish fieldwork and begin some proper deskwork time. – Freya


Some of the critters Freya has captured so far out on fieldwork. (Images: Freya Thomas)

I started the year by walking the Overland Track in perfect weather – what a great way to start 2019! Two major highlights for me were being awarded an ARC Discovery Project with Sarah Bekessy, Andrew Knight and Atte Moilanen, and being appointed to DELWP’s Scientific Reference Group. The Discovery Project will investigate onsets as an alternative to offsets that could deliver on-site benefits and net gains for biodiversity. I’ve also really enjoyed the opportunity to be involved in the ecological planning for the Fishermans Bend Urban Renewal project, and was delighted to see Matthew Selinske become a Dr! – Georgia

Finally publishing my first first-author paper from my Master’s project (Gregg et al. 2019) was definitely a major highlight for me! That paper has been hanging over my head for a while! Receiving a DPIE/ESA Outstanding Outreach Award was also a great moment, and I’m excited to work on a school science project as part of that team for next year. Celebrating the #untweetables on Twitter during the week leading up to Threatened Species Day was also a nice moment to share with the entire ICON team. – Emily

I’m very satisfied with what I accomplished this year. I completed my PhD confirmation milestone and presented part of my research at the International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA) annual conference, where I also took a training course on Strategic Thinking for Sustainability and met researchers and professionals working on environmental assessment and biodiversity conservation. Hanging with the ICON mates has also been a lot of fun! Outside the PhD, completing a half and a full marathon were great moments in my year – Marco

My ongoing Melbourne Fieldwork this year has brought many interesting sights, sounds and new knowledge on the wonderful creatures inhabiting Melbourne green spaces, and my successful bid for the Green Our Rooftop Grants brings exciting new opportunities to apply what I have learnt in a different context! An additional highlight for me would definitely be having the opportunity to present my research on where native species belong in green space planning to an audience of architects, planners, artists and ecologists at The Nature of Cities Summit in Paris, and become part of the global conversation on how to build cities better for people and nature. – Katie


Native wasp (Image: Katherine Berthon)

This year has been fantastic for me. Joined ICON group as a PhD student and now moving into the next year as a PhD candidate. Published 4 research papers as a co-author outside of the PhD project (Rimal et al., 2019), (Rahman et., 2019), (Rimal et al., 2019), (Sharma et a., 2019), further 2 more papers undergoing review. A protocol paper (a chapter for the PhD) is in review. This year was also about making friends, lot of beer drinking and chilling – for a long-term research collaboration. – Roshan

A major highlight of 2019 for me was us hosting a successful (even fun!) workshop to set out the objectives and target species of the Fisherman’s Bend ecology strategy, in which I was responsible for leading a creative storytelling exercise to draw robust objectives from a group of scientists, policymakers and community members. I also enjoyed having the chance to present the findings of a year of analysis to the European Commission in Brussels, outlining new tools and planning processes for greening in our seven partner cities in Europe and beyond. – Thami

On behalf of everyone here at ICON Science, Happy Holidays to all and we’ll see you in the New Year!

Xmas 2019

ICON Science’s Christmas Party at Portarlington | December 2019

Vale, Derwent River Seastar

“RIP little star
sorry your light
has gone out “

Yesterday at a team meeting, we took a moment to bid farewell to the Derwent River Seastar, which was found to be extinct after a fairly complex process of laboratory intrigue. This makes it the fourth species in Australia thusly departed this decade, and its timing is poignant – we just submitted our submission to the Senate Enquiry into Australia’s Faunal Extinction Crisis.


The dearly departed Marginaster Littoralis.

Despite the Seastar being a fairly obscure beast that lacks soft fur or big, wet eyes full of relatable sentiment, we felt an unusual sorrow. After a bit of reflection we tracked this back to the fact that the Seastar was in fact our cake entry to last year’s Threatened Species Bakeoff (yes, the very bakeoff that First Dog cleverly skewered earlier this month).

Our 2017 seastar cake, made with awareness-raising flour. Might also work as a parma.

Pause for thought for conservation psych gurus like Matthew and Alex: does any engagement with a species, however non-charismatic, even baking it as a cake, help us care about its conservation status? Are there lessons for less-than-charismatically named organisms that Emily studies, like the Bastard Grunt or Depressed River Mussel.
Is the story of our baked gingerbread Seastar a fitting final message? Or is icing sugar just not the answer?

Grappling with the social dimension of novel ecosystems

Regardless of what conservation decisions are made, none can be said to be objective. From the species we choose to protect, to the ecosystems we choose to study, or the management strategies we endeavour to implement – all these decisions are fundamentally driven by the conservation values held by decision-makers.

Screen Shot 2018-07-03 at 4.06.22 pm
Anna Backstrom and others from ICON Science explore this idea in a new paper on the social dimensions of novel ecosystems.

Novel ecosystems are a contentious space for conservationists because they are a consequence of human-induced environmental change. For some, they are a vivid example of what conservationists are fighting to reverse. But often these changes are irreversible. For others, novel ecosystems represent a closure of the nature-human divide and are the new wild.

Management benchmarks for novel ecosystems are difficult to establish. There is an argument that all species would have been new to a system at one point in time, therefore every ecosystem could be considered novel. Choosing what historical trajectory to aim for is not simple. Novel ecosystems are also places where indigenous species have learnt to make use of the non-indigenous. This is seen in habitat gaps filled by exotic plants that are then used by indigenous fauna. Here, a decision is needed about which species to manage for – eradicate the non-indigenous species and lose habitat or maintain the exotics to protect the fauna species.

Resolving management decisions for novel ecosystems requires conservation decision-makers to acknowledge and trade-off between multiple values, which may be environmental, social or economic. We propose a values-based decision approach for determining appropriate management of modified ecosystems and argue that it is only within this ecological decision-making context that there is a defined role for the novel ecosystem concept. Using this approach, novel ecosystems are assessed not as “right” or “wrong”, but by the extent to which they meet desired ecological, social, and economic objectives. 


Backstrom AGarrard GE, Hobbs RJ, Bekessy SA. (Online, 6 February 2018) Grappling with the social dimension of novel ecosystems. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. doi:10.1002/fee.1769.

ICON Scientists at Society for Conservation Biology Oceania Conference 2018 in Wellington NZ

We have a ‘department’ of ICON Scientists presenting at the upcoming SCBO Conference in New Zealand! Go along to their talks, and tweet them so we at home can follow along!


Matthew Selinske: Tues 4 July 1:30pm Symposium ‘Intergenerational stewardship for long-term conservation impact’

Future-proofing privately protected areas through intergenerational stewardship

Georgia Garrard: Tues 4 July 2:30 pm Symposium ‘Intergenerational stewardship for long-term conservation impact’

Intergenerational stewardship goes both ways: Do children influence the conservation attitudes of their parents?

Alex Kusmanoff: Wed 4 July 12pm Session ‘People and Conservation’ 

What to say and what not to say: When talking conservation, some frames speak louder than others

Jeremy Ringma: Wed 4 July 4.45pm Session ‘Wildlife Conservation’ 

Strategic planning of conservation fencing.


Matthew Selinske and Georgia Garrard are both presenting in the Symposium ‘Intergenerational stewardship for long-term conservation impact’

Intergenerational stewardship for long-term conservation impact

Intergenerational stewardship is the transmission of conservation values and knowledge from one generation to the next. Family and peer relationships, often guided by customary institutions, help synchronize stewardship values and impart knowledge to understand and manage biodiversity. The process is critical for the long-term conservation of biodiversity and sustainability, and has been observed in multiple contexts including indigenous land management, private land conservation, urban households and within organisations. Increasing uncertainty in social-ecological systems (population shifts to urban centers, climatic impacts on ecosystems, extinction of experience) may disrupt the maintenance and transmission of intergenerational stewardship. We examine the dynamics of intergenerational stewardship and the mechanisms by which programs can support both its maintenance and transmission. This symposium seeks to: 1) understand how stewardship values develop over time and are transferred to the next generation; 2) examine case studies of intergenerational stewardship across various contexts; and 3) identify mechanisms that support the transmission of stewardship values.

Matthew is presenting:

Future-proofing privately protected areas through intergenerational stewardship

Privately protected areas are increasingly used to secure conservation goals. Our research on covenant programs in south-east Australia finds that the security and conservation effectiveness of PPAs is impacted by the temporal dynamics of these systems including changing ecology, ownership, and capacity. Intergenerational stewardship may play an important role in the continuity and effectiveness of PPA management and protection. We argue that PPA organisations have an important role to play in facilitating intergenerational stewardship.

And Georgia is presenting:

Intergenerational stewardship goes both ways: Do children influence the conservation attitudes of their parents?

Intergenerational stewardship goes both ways: Do children influence the conservation attitudes of their parents. Extinction of experience is thought to be a major barrier to environmental stewardship, especially in cities. We found that primary school children who were immersed in a local native grassland as part of an environmental education program showed positive attitudes towards the grassland and developed a sense of care for it. Here, we explore whether these positive attitudes affected the attitudes and engagement of their parents.

Alex is presenting in the session ‘People and Conservation’:

What to say and what not to say: When talking conservation, some frames speak louder than others

How we frame conservation is crucial for building support. Different frames work better for different audiences, but triage is always bad.

Jeremy is presenting in the session ‘Wildlife Conservation’: 

Strategic planning of conservation fencing

In the past 20 years fencing has been increasingly used as a tool in conservation providing an expensive but highly secure mechanism for separating biodiversity from threatening agents. Throughout Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii, conservation fences are so numerous they can be thought of as part of a network. In these cases, systematic conservation planning can be used to prioritize new fencing projects using complementarity principles in a manner similar to protected area networks. We compare different approaches to prioritising conservation fencing based using examples from Australia and Hawaii. Approaches to fence network prioritization differ based on threat types and the need to translocate threatened species into fences versus protecting in situ biodiversity. In each case, systematic approaches improved species protection at rates many times greater than the current uncoordinated, ad-hoc approach to the allocation of new fencing projects.

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