Category Archives: New paper

Australia’s Urban Biodiversity: How Is Adaptive Governance Influencing Land-Use Policy?

By Hugh Stanford

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Image: John Englart / CC BY-SA 2.0

Due to a growing global interconnectedness, the world is a highly uncertain place where the daily lives of individuals are increasingly susceptible to the happenings half a world away. To find examples of this, one only has to look at Australia’s current run through 2020, where ‘unprecedented’ climate change fuelled bushfires have given way to the ‘unprecedented’ realities of a COVID world. In these times, where the notion of ‘normality’ starts to appear as a novelty, the way in which we govern ourselves and the places we live needs to be adaptive in the face of uncertainty. The existing theory on resilience and sustainability advocate for an adaptive governance approach, where our governance systems are designed not to resist inevitable shocks, but to utilise them to shift towards a better future.

In a new book chapter titled “Australia’s Urban Biodiversity: How Is Adaptive Governance Influencing Land-Use Policy?”, ICON Science PhD candidate Hugh Stanford investigates how well Australian biodiversity land-use planning policy has gone about incorporating adaptive thinking into key policy documents. The chapter uses an analytical framework to assess land-use planning policies in Melbourne and Sydney, determining how well they adopt adaptive governance elements. The chapter concludes that, while some policy measures provide for adaptability in the face of uncertainty, more needs to be done to better protect Australia’s unique and valuable biodiversity from threats of an unpredictable future.

Reference

Stanford H., Bush J. (2020) Australia’s Urban Biodiversity: How Is Adaptive Governance Influencing Land-Use Policy?. In: Roggema R., Roggema A. (eds) Smart and Sustainable Cities and Buildings. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-37635-2_14

What difference do protected areas make on vegetation extent and condition?

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Logging road in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Roshan Sharma.

Biodiversity is the variety of all life forms on Earth and underpins the health of our planet. It provides important ecosystem services like food and fibre that are the basis of human existence. However, exploitative human activities on Earth have created an unprecedented breakdown of the environment, causing global biodiversity loss at an unprecedented rate and scale. Land cover change, mainly the conversion of vegetation – the state and processes that support biodiversity – is by far the most important driver of biodiversity loss. This conversion is led by the expansion of croplands, urban areas, infrastructure, logging, mining and fire (Curtis et al., 2018). 

The establishment of protected areas (PAs) is one of the most important and globally applicable approaches to reducing these conversions. PAs are clearly defined geographical areas that limit human activities in prescribed areas. Since the campaign to expand PAs in the World’s Park Congress in 1982, nations have strived to increase the extent of land under protection. The global PAs have grown to cover more than 28.4 million square kilometres or around 13 per cent of the Earth’s land surface (UNEP-WDPA, 2019). Further, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has called to increase the protected area state to 17 per cent of the Earth’s land surface (Aichi Target 11). 

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With the vast areas of land already under protection and calls to increase it, are PAs making a difference? PAs are known to be disproportionately established on marginal lands with least pressure of conversion and places unimportant for biodiversity. This means that PAs may not be having the intended impact – a reason many have criticised them. To understand the difference a PA is making, the outcome after the PA has been implemented needs to be compared with what would have happened without the PA in place (referred to as the counterfactual scenario). Estimating the counterfactual is the crux of finding such a difference or impact. However, estimating counterfactuals can be difficult due to the non-random allocation of PA. Evaluations that fail to accurately estimate the counterfactuals without considering non-random allocation of PAs and other spatial processes will cause bias and result in invalid estimates of impact.

This issue intrigued ICON Science PhD candidate Roshan Sharma, who started searching for literature for impact evaluation studies on PAs. He found that the literature is largely scattered, varied, and in many cases contradicting regarding how much difference PAs were making. There was a clear research gap that needed to be addressed.

Roshan decided to conduct a systematic review to address this research gap. Systematic reviews can be a great approach to synthesising evidence and generating higher quality evidence than individual studies. If done correctly, these reviews can allow researchers to come closer to understanding the true effect of an intervention. 

In an effort to increase the transparency and reproducibility of the review, Roshan developed a protocol with the help of ICON Science peers Ascelin Gordon and Marco Gutierrez, and fellow researchers from the University of Helsinki, the University of Western Australia, the University of Cambridge, and James Cook University. The protocol follows the Collaboration for Environmental Evidence guidelines and ROSES (RepOrting standards for Systematic Evidence Synthesis) reporting framework. Following the standard guidelines and frameworks ensures that the review covers all relevant literature, implements a dual consistency checking in screening and data extraction to remove reviewer bias, has a quality appraisal of all selected studies, and synthesizes only high-quality studies. Publishing the protocol ensures the results of the review will be published regardless of the findings, effectively removing publication bias. The protocol has been recently published in Environmental Evidence and can be found here

Now that the protocol has been published, Roshan and the team will be moving forward to undertake the review. They hope the results of the review will be useful for the larger scientific community and policymakers. There is an ongoing debate on whether the successor of Aichi Target 11 will be on setting higher area targets for PAs or emphasize more on impact measures. Thus, they hope that their findings will be relevant to the development of new post-2020 CBD targets. 

References

Curtis PG, Slay CM, Harris NL, Tyukavina A, Hansen MC. Classifying drivers of forest loss. Science. 2018. http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aau3445

Sharma, R., Eklund, J., Barnes, M. et al. The impact of terrestrial protected areas on vegetation extent and condition: a systematic review protocol. Environ Evid 9, 8 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13750-020-00191-y

UNDEP-WDPA. The world database on protected areas. 2019.

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.

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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

 

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.

Citation:

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

 

Transforming urban gardeners into land stewards

by Laura Mumaw

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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.

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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

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.

Citation:

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

Why politics and context matter in conservation policy

By Florence Damiens

Politics and context matter for conservation policy. That is why our research group, in collaboration with Brian Coffey and Lauren Rickards from RMIT University’s Centre for Urban Research, has just published a collective reply to Peter Kareiva and Emma Fuller’s article in Global Policy.

In brief, we argue that Kareiva’s and Fuller’s proposal does not sufficiently consider the core challenges faced by biodiversity conservation researchers and practitioners in this time of dramatic change, for people and nature. Conservation issues are context-dependent: ecological, economic, social, ethical and political. Embracing and responding to this complexity is a necessity when conceiving potential solutions for the future of conservation, humans and the biosphere.

While some of the approaches the authors promote may work in particular situations, we believe their proposal risks unintended and detrimental social and ecological consequences by presenting them as global solutions to complex problems that are context-dependent. In particular, their proposal does not address some of the key causes of biodiversity loss, i.e. over-exploitation of natural resources, intensive agricultural activity, urban development, and pollution. These causes are accepted as fait accompli and their mitigation as potential conservation strategies is not considered. New technologies and ‘managing for evolution’ are presented as guiding principles for any context, which is problematic. Moreover, the questions around what should be conserved, the processes by which biodiversity is valued, and who has the legitimacy to value it are not addressed. Lastly, we argue that a one-size-fits-all utilitarian approach and a neoliberal governance model, as proposed by Kareiva and Fuller, risks poor involvement or opposition from communities and societies and may undermine their traditional structures and relationships with nature.

See our full reply here: Damiens et al. (Online, 13 March 2017)

If you can’t access the paper using this link please send me an e-mail (florence.damiens@rmit.edu.au) and I will send you the pdf directly – thanks!

New publication: Metaresearch for Evaluating Reproducibility in Ecology and Evolution

Over the last few years we have learned a lot about the reliability of scientific evidence in a range of fields through large scale ‘meta-research’ projects. Such projects take a scientific approach to studying science itself, and can help shed light on whether science is progressing in the cumulative fashion we might hope for.

One well known meta-research example is The Reproducibility Project in Psychology. A group of 270 psychological scientists embarked on a worldwide collaboration to undertake a full direct replication of  100 published studies, in order to test the average reliability of findings. Results showed over half of those 100 replications failed to produce the same results as the original. Similar studies have been conducted in other fields too—biomedicine, economics —with equally disappointing results.

It’s tempting to think that this kind of replication happens all the time. But it doesn’t. Studies of other disciplines tell us that only 1 in every 1,000 papers published is a true direct replication of previous research. The vast majority of published findings never face the challenge of replication.

As yet, there have not been any meta-research projects in ecology and evolution, so we don’t know whether the same low reproducibility rates plague our own discipline. In fact, it’s not just that the meta-research hasn’t been done yet, it is quite unlikely to ever happen, at least in the form of direct replication discussed above. This is because the spatial and temporal dependencies of ecological processes, the long time frames and other intrinsic features make direct replication attempts difficult at best, and often impossible.

But there are real reasons to be concerned about what that meta-research would show, if it was possible. The aspects of the scientific culture and practice that have been identified as direct causes of the reproducibility crisis in other disciplines exist in ecology and evolution too. For example, there’s a strong bias towards only publishing novel, original research which automatically pushes replication studies out of the publication cycle. The pragmatic difficulties of experimental and field research mean that the statistical power of those studies is often low, and yet there are a disproportionate number of ‘positive’ or ‘significant’ studies in the literature—another kind of publication bias towards ‘significant’ results. The rate of full data and material sharing in many journals is still low, despite this being one of the easiest and most obvious solutions to reproducibility problems.

In our paper, we argue that the pragmatic difficulties with direct replication projects shouldn’t scare ecologists and evolutionary biologists off the idea of meta-research projects altogether. We discuss other approaches that could be used for replicating ecological research. We also propose several specific projects that could serve as ‘proxies’ or indicator measures of the likely reproducibility of the ecological evidence base. Finally, we argue that it’s particularly important for the discipline to take measure to safe guard against the known causes of reproducibility problems, in order to maintain public confidence in the discipline, and the important evidence base it provides for important environmental and conservation decisions.

Paper citation:

Fidler F., Chee Y.E., Wintle B.C., Burgman M.A., McCarthy M.A., Gordon A. (2017) Meta-research for Evaluating Reproducibility in Ecology and Evolution. Bioscience. doi: 10.1093/biosci/biw159l available at https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biw159

Framing Conservation Messages

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By Alex Kusmanoff

Myself and a number of esteemed colleagues have recently published a paper, Framing the Private Land Conservation Conversation: Strategic framing of the benefits of conservation participation could increase landholder engagement in Environmental Science and Policy. In it we look at how the benefits of private land conservation are currently being framed.It can be found here: http://authors.elsevier.com/a/1Sun05Ce0rOEt3

For those of you who don’t have time to read it, I shall provide a synopsis.

First, some context.

Private land is home to some amazing and important species and ecological communities, some of which are only found on private land. And the success of our efforts to conserve nature on private land is intrinsically linked to the engagement of willing landholder participants.

Despite much research the influences on landholder participation, studies show that only a small proportion of landholders tend to participate in private land conservation (PLC) schemes (these include things like management agreements, conservation covenants and stewardship payments). And although there has been widespread implementation of PLC policy instruments, success at engaging rural landholders in conservation initiatives has been mixed.

Presumably, convincing landholders as to why they should participate in private land conservation is an important part of getting more people involved.

So we looked at how contemporary communications from the sector currently communicate the benefits of participation to landholders to see how this was currently done.

We used a value orientation framework to analyse how the participation benefits of Australian PLC schemes are framed. Value orientation refers to the way that people weigh different interests when making decisions. These consist of egoistic, social-altruistic and biospheric orientations.

Egoistically oriented people tend to weigh the cost and benefits to themselves personally; social-altruistically oriented people tend to weigh the costs and benefits to others; and biospherically oriented people tend to weigh the costs and benefits to the biosphere as a whole. Of course people do not act perfectly according to any particular orientation, but in this case it serves as a useful framework to understand what’s currently happening.

By analysing the way benefits of PLC are framed in communications, we can gain insight into the breadth of the audience likely to be engaged. So we analysed the website content of 20 of the most notable Australian PLC schemes and categorised the benefits mentioned on these websites as being either benefits to the landholder, to society, or to the environment (these categories corresponding to the value orientations described above). Although landholders get their information from a range of sources (neighbours, extensions officers, field days), websites are often visited to get more detailed information about specific programs.

Our thinking was if PLC communications are to be relevant and engaging to as broad a range of landholders as possible, these three different kinds of benefits should all be well represented across these websites.

And what did we find?

Our results suggest a heavy reliance on environmentally-themed messages which is unlikely to engage landholders who are more egoistically oriented. This was particularly the case with market-based schemes, that you can imagine ought to appeal to production-focussed landholders and those not already involved in conservation.

So what does this mean, I hear you think.

We argue that perhaps framing the benefits of PLC more broadly (covering the different value orientations) would engage a greater diversity of landholders, aiding PLC recruitment. In particular, increased use of landholder and society benefits may be advantageous in engaging a wider range, and greater number of landholders.

However, we caution that any promised benefits must be achievable; over-promising and under-delivering could be a sure-fire means of permanently deterring the participation of many landholders.

We also need further research about the potential for unintended feedback effects, for example, the potential for motivational crowding in messages that focus on landholder benefits.

This is not a definitive statement on how PLC benefits are framed, or even how they ought to be framed, but a first step in understanding how they might be strategically re-framed for better effect.

As a first step, we simply urge PLC programs to be aware of the value orientation frame implicit in their messages, and to consider whether this is a good match for their audience and their program’s goal. Best practice in any case will be determined by the context.

Reference:

Kusmanoff, A., M., Fidler, F., Hardy, M., Maffey, G., Raymond, C., Reed, M., Fitzsimons, J., and Bekessy, S. (2016) Framing the Private Land Conservation Conversation: Strategic framing of the benefits of conservation participation could increase landholder engagement. Environmental Science and Policy. 61: 124 – 128.

How permanent are conservation covenants?

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Conserving the important biodiversity that exists on private land is a growing part of international conservation efforts. In many countries, including Australia, Canada, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States, conservation policies often support the implementation of conservation covenants and easements. These are legally binding agreements with private landholders and are registered on the title of the property. These agreements are designed to last forever (‘in perpetuity’), and oblige current and future owners to protect the ecological values on their property. Key to these agreements is that the ecological values be permanent and secure, ensuring that they remain in place through time. For this reason such agreements are designed to be difficult to remove, in most cases requiring authority from multiple parties, including a government Minister. This degree of security is an important element in the formal recognition of conservation covenants and easements as Privately Protected Areas (PPAs) that are counted towards international conservation targets.

However, there are threats to these agreements that could affect their longevity and thus the security of the ecological values they protect. Pressures from mining, changes of property ownership, changing economic conditions and alterations in government policy, raise questions about the permanence of conservation agreements on private land. As a result, some conservation stakeholders view these private conservation areas as less secure than public conservation areas.

Collecting data from all 13 major covenanting programs across Australia, we set out to understand just how permanent these agreements actually are. We looked at instances where covenants had been released (taken off title) or breached (where a landholder had not met their obligations to protect the ecological value, but where the covenant had stayed on title), and the reasons behind these. We found that out of the 6,818 multi-party covenants (those that require authority from multiple parties for removal), only 8 had been removed from title. The data on breaches were less clear, mainly because breaches are very difficult for covenanting organisations to identify. However we did find 71 known cases across Australia where covenant obligations had not been met.

Our study suggests that covenants are an important and enduring mechanism for conserving biodiversity on private land. With a focus on private land conservation policy, we use the results from this case study to highlight the importance of monitoring and reporting on releases and breaches to understand why they are occurring and to ensure that PPAs remain effective in their contribution to international conservation efforts into the long-term. We also provide recommendations for covenanting organisations on how to improve their monitoring programs.

Reference (you can download the full article for free!)
Hardy MJ, Fitzsimons JA, Bekessy SA and A Gordon (2016). Exploring the permanence of conservation covenants. Conservation Letters DOI: 10.1111/conl.12243 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/conl.12243/abstract