Waiting can be an optimal conservation strategy, even in a crisis discipline

Iacona, Gwenllian D., Possingham, Hugh P., and Bode, Michael (2017) Waiting can be an optimal conservation strategy, even in a crisis discipline. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 114 (39). pp. 10497-10502.

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Biodiversity conservation projects confront immediate and escalating threats with limited funding. Conservation theory suggests that the best response to the species extinction crisis is to spend money as soon as it becomes available, and this is often an explicit constraint placed on funding. We use a general dynamic model of a conservation landscape to show that this decision to "front-load" project spending can be suboptimal if a delay allows managers to use resources more strategically. Our model demonstrates the existence of temporal efficiencies in conservation management, which parallel the spatial efficiencies identified by systematic conservation planning. The optimal timing of decisions balances the rate of biodiversity decline (e.g., the relaxation of extinction debts, or the progress of climate change) against the rate at which spending appreciates in value ( e.g., through interest, learning, or capacity building). We contrast the benefits of acting and waiting in two ecosystems where restoration can mitigate forest bird extinction debts: South Australia's Mount Lofty Ranges and Paraguay's Atlantic Forest. In both cases, conservation outcomes cannot be maximized byfront-loading spending, and the optimal solution recommends substantial delays before managers undertake conservation actions. Surprisingly, these delays allow superior conservation benefits to be achieved, in less time than front loading. Our analyses provide an intuitive and mechanistic rationale for strategic delay, which contrasts with the orthodoxy of front loaded spending for conservation actions. Our results illustrate the conservation efficiencies that could be achieved if decision makers choose when to spend their limited resources, as opposed to just where to spend them.

Item ID: 51313
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1091-6490
Keywords: systematic conservation planning, extinction debt, conservation finance, dynamic optimization, forest restoration
Funders: ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions, Australian Research Council (ARC)
Projects and Grants: ARC DE130100572, ARC Laureate Fellowship
Date Deposited: 25 Oct 2017 07:30
FoR Codes: 41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4104 Environmental management > 410401 Conservation and biodiversity @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9605 Ecosystem Assessment and Management > 960599 Ecosystem Assessment and Management not elsewhere classified @ 100%
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