Introducing the ‘Cost-Effective Resource Allocator’: a free tool for prioritising management actions

The ‘Cost-Effective Resource Allocator’ is an Excel-based tool for supporting natural resource managers in deciding which management actions will generate the greatest benefit for threatened species in their protected area.  The tool can help park managers anywhere in the world to choose actions that assist multiple species of concern.  

The philosophy of the tool relies on the idea of cost-effectiveness – how can a park manager obtain the biggest return on investment for species conservation from their limited budgets? Not only does it drive efficiency, it can be used to ask for new resources that will deliver the greatest return on investment.  This research builds on a body of work by the University of Queensland and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation going back to 2008: including Joseph et al. 2009Carwardine et al. 2011, Firn et al. 2015, and Di Fonzo et al. 2016 amongst others.

This tool was developed in collaboration with Parks Australia using a case study of four species from Christmas Island National Park: a native fern (Pneumatopteris truncata), the Christmas Island Red Crab (Gecarcoidea natalis), the Golden Bosun (Phaethon lepturus fulvus), and Abbott’s Booby (Papasula abbotti).

The research was supported by the Australian Federal Environment Department’s National Environmental Research Program funding scheme, the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions, and the United States National Science Foundation Decision, Risk and Management Sciences funding.


The guide to the tool is published in issue 23.1 of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA)’s journal, PARKS.
The tool can be downloaded here:  Appendix-S1. Cost-Effective Resource Allocator.xlsx

Reference: Di Fonzo, M.M.I., Nicol, S., Possingham, H. P., Flakus, S., West, J. G., Failing, L., Long, G., and Walshe, T. 2017. Cost-Effective Resource Allocator: A decision support tool for threatened species management. PARKS 23.1, 101-113, doi: 10.2305/IUCN.CH.2017.PARKS-23-1MMIDF.en


Golden Bosun

Abbott's booby

Abbott’s Booby

Differences in the shape of wildlife population declines can guide conservation action

Our paper analysing wildlife population declines is just out today in Journal of Applied Ecology!

The Applied Ecologist

In this post Martina Di Fonzo discusses her paper ‘Patterns of mammalian population decline inform conservation action‘ published in Issue 4 of Journal of Applied Ecology, online today.

Wildlife monitoring programmes play a key role in understanding ecological systems and this information forms the basis of many management decisions and conservation actions. Monitoring population declines, in particular, is an important step in tackling biodiversity loss, as severe population reductions anticipate species extinctions.  In our recent paper, we explore how differences in the shape of mammalian wildlife population declines can act as useful trigger points within monitoring programmes, to highlight when and where rapid management intervention is required.

This study builds on our previous analyses, in which we identified three principal decline-curve types of increasing severity: quadratic concave (i.e. recovering), exponential concave (i.e. decelerating), and quadratic convex (i.e. accelerating) decline-curves (Figure A).   In our new study, we investigate whether the presence of different decline-curve types within 85 mammalian population time-series is dependent…

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Blog: Postdoc-ing for Dummies

I really enjoyed reading these tips about how to get the most from a postdoc. Thank you for blogging about this, Natalie!

natalie matosin | blog

Feb 2016. It’s been over a year since I submitted my PhD thesis, and I’m finally starting to settle into postdoc shoes. Although I’m feeling relaxed about it now, I look back and realise that I felt very overwhelmed during the transition from PhD to postdoc. It came in waves, where I felt like I was totally on top of things and adapting really quickly to the new work and environment, to feeling like I was completely out of my depth. I had lost my safety net, and was starting to develop a serious case of imposter syndrome.

During one wave of ‘what-the-hell-is-happening-to-me’, I decided it would be helpful to think about what was the purpose of being a postdoc, what I should be aiming to get out of it, and whether I was ticking all things off the “postdoc bucket list”. I found some articles online written by other postdocs, detailing the various issues that they had faced. However I didn’t really…

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New paper: Trading off Persistence Targets with Numbers of Species

DSCN8092   DSCN8554   DSCN8344

Targets such as a species’ minimum viable population size or the optimum proportion of land that should be protected are important for translating the complexities of conserving natural resources into clear “rules of thumb”; however setting the same high-aspirational target across different species and landscapes may not be very efficient.  Firstly, it is unlikely that distinct species will respond in exactly the same way to the same conservation target, which could result in unequal levels of protection and eventually lead to an overestimation in the amount of conservation achieved.  Secondly, setting high-level targets will mean that fewer species can benefit from conservation funding when the budget available for these activities is limited.  Our paper investigates this second point by evaluating the trade-off between carrying out intensive levels of conservation effort to provide a high level of persistence for a few species against applying lower amounts of effort across more species, resulting in greater numbers surviving at lower persistence levels.

We carry out this analysis by modifying the species persistence target of a well-known framework for prioritizing management of threatened species, the “Project Prioritization Protocol” (PPP), which ranks species according to their cost-efficiency, and selects the set of species for conservation in order, until the budget is expended.  We used a dataset of 700 threatened species from New Zealand (see three examples of these above!) with relevant information on the cost, likelihood of success, and the potential benefit of working on each species project as a case-study for our analysis.  Specifically, we compared the conservation outcomes for our 700 species under different budgets when we reduced the PPP’s target from 95% down to 5% probability of persistence.  Conservation outcomes were evaluated based on the ‘expected number of species saved’  in each scenario, which is a metric that takes into account the number of species prioritized for conservation management, their respective probabilities of persistence, as well as the total probability of persistence of all unmanaged species.

Our study has two main findings (summarized in Figure 1): First of all, we show that is always better to set a high persistence target (above at least 75% probability of persistence) in order to maximise the expected number of species saved, no matter how low your budget is.  Secondly, we find that the persistence level that delivers the highest conservation outcome is influenced by the available budget, such that lower budgets will have slightly lower optimal targets (i.e. it will be better to manage species with a target of less than 95% persistence).  It is important to note that we identify a threshold target of 75% probability of persistence, below which it is never optimal to aim for.  This finding demonstrates how the practice of undertaking low levels of management on more species (to give the impression of working on a wider range of species) can become inefficient when resources are spread too thinly.

The key message of our study is that it is important to carefully consider what target to aim for in order to achieve the greatest conservation gains.  We hope that our findings can be used to encourage conservation planners to maintain high targets (above 75% probability of persistence), and also lead them to question whether setting an overprecautionary goal of ensuring 95% probability of persistence is indeed optimal, considering their budget.

Reference:  Di Fonzo, M.M.I., Possingham, H. P., Probert, W.J.M., Bennett, J.R., O’Connor, S., Densem, J., Joseph, L.N., Tulloch, A.I.T., and Maloney, R.F. Evaluating trade-offs between target persistence levels and numbers of species conserved. In press in Conservation Letters.

New Paper: Historical data as a baseline for gibbon conservation

Thinking back..

A rescued gibbon undergoing rehabilitation at Kalaweit Gibbon Conservation Centre, Kalimantan, Indonesia; Photo by M. Di Fonzo

There are four surviving species of gibbon in China today (eastern hoolock gibbon Hoolock leuconedys; black crested gibbon Nomascus concolor; Hainan gibbon N. hainanus; Cao Vit gibbon N. nasutus), all of which are threatened with extinction.   In order to gain a better understanding of the processes that led to their heightened risk of extinction Sam Turvey, Jennifer Crees and I carried out an analysis of historical gibbon population records found in local Chinese gazetteers, dating back from the 1600s (the ‘Late Imperial’ period) to the present day.

We found that northern and eastern gibbon populations disappeared first, followed by a progressive range contraction towards southwestern China (which is consistent with the ‘contagion model’ of range collapse).  This pattern of loss can be explained by known patterns of regional human population density and demographic expansion during the Late Imperial period. Historically, northern China accommodated higher human population densities, followed by a migration of the ‘Han’ people to areas south of the Yangtze river from the mid-1500s onwards.  Next, there was a westward expansion of people away from areas of high population density in the southeast, which lead to the progressive colonization (and encroachment on gibbon habitat) of the southern uplands by Ming and Qing Dynasty settlers (so-called ‘shed people’).

Our study also highlighted a significant increase in the rate of gibbon population extirpation across China from the second half of the nineteenth century onwards, most likely in response to the well-documented destructive environmental policies and human population explosion that occurred during this period.   Finally, our analyses identified that gibbon populations occurring at lower elevations in China have been more vulnerable to extinction as a result of greater historical human population growth and habitat conversion in these more accessible regions.   In fact, today’s populations are largely restricted to medium/high-elevation montane forests.

In addition to documenting the dynamics of past gibbon extinctions, we hope that our analyses of long-term Chinese gazetteer records can provide some important historical insights to inform conservation management of the country’s highly threatened remnant gibbon populations.

Resscued gibbons in Katimantan, Indonesia

A helping hand; Photo by M. Di Fonzo

Reference: Turvey, S. T., Crees, J. J., and Di Fonzo, M.M.I. Historical data as a baseline for conservation: reconstructing long-term faunal extinction dynamics in Late Imperial–modern China. In press in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

This study was reviewed by the BBC on 5/08/15:

10 best reviewer comments in meme: part 2

Very funny memes – especially while in the middle of responding to reviewer comments on two papers at once! Thank you for collecting these, Kiran…

The testy toad

As a follow on from my earlier post entitled “10 best reviewer comments in meme” and after having myself gotten some reviewer comments back last week, I would like to present 10 more memes from the website Sh*t my reviewer say. Enjoy!

1. Reject – More holes than my grandad’s string vest!


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Creative Conversations about Conservation: an exhibition curated by Nicholas Smith

I have been helping prepare an exhibition dedicated to exploring new ways of communicating conservation science alongside a collective of scientists and artists, which we have called “Artefact”. We had our first event on Wednesday! Dr. Geof Hill kindly reviewed it on his blog:

the (research) supervisor's friend


An exhibition review.

One of the outcomes of encouraging researchers to embrace creativity (see previous blog) in their publications is that they do, and this can result in a range of creative events. This exhibition is one such event, where several conservation researchers decided to publish some creative aspects of their research in the mode of an art exhibition.

The exhibition as a research publication is a relatively innovative way to publish one’s research or portions of one’s research, and can be undertaken by a single researcher, or as is the case with this exhibition, a collaboration with the support of an exhibition curator.

The purpose of the Creative Conversations about Conservation exhibition is twofold:
Firstly, each of the researchers is celebrating their individual creative talents and demonstrating how their creative flair plays an integral part in their research work and publication.
Secondly, the collaborative Artefact ( ) has used…

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10 years’ worth of conservation: An IUCN World Parks Congress wrap-up

Carla Archibald and I attended the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) World Parks Congress last November in Sydney. I gave a short talk  (available as an “e-poster”) on an excel-based decision support tool for maximising species persistence in protected areas, developed in collaboration with Parks AustraliaDi Fonzo_WPC2014 EPOSTER.

We thoroughly enjoyed the Congress and have written up a few words about our experience.

It has been 11 years since the world’s conservation leaders and practitioners came together in South Africa to establish the “Durban Promise”, a road-map for protected area management that led to a new governance ‘paradigm’ based on respect of the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities. In November 2014 these same leaders congregated in Sydney to reflect on what they achieved and plan future conservation actions to be implemented post-‘Aichi targets’, which were agreed upon at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)’s Nagoya conference in 2010. Over six thousand delegates from 170 countries were represented, coming from the government sectors, NGO’s, research institutions and the private sector, ranging from Ministers to park rangers to students. The congress was broken up into 8 streams that were addressed over 6 days through hundreds of sessions and events.   These included:

  1. Reaching Conservation Goals
  2. Responding to Climate Change
  3. Improving Health and Well-being
  4. Supporting Human Life
  5. Reconciling Development Challenges
  6. Enhancing Diversity and Quality
  7. Respecting Indigenous and Traditional Owners
  8. Inspiring a New generation
Waiting for it all to begin!

Waiting for it all to begin

The opening ceremony started with a traditional welcoming to the land by indigenous elders, and a welcoming to the congress by the president of the IUCN, Zhang Xinsheng. Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Luvuyo Mandela, also participated in the opening ceremony during which he spoke about his grandfather’s legacy, reiterating the importance of today’s youth in securing environmental conservation.

The “Parks plenary” began with keynote speeches from Prof. Johnathan Baille, Director of the Zoological Society of London and Dr. James Watson, Head of Climate Change at the Wildlife Conservation Society and Associate Professor at the University of Queensland. Baille’s team conducted a survey asking the public why they wanted protected areas, with the main response being to ensure the persistence of species and ecosystem, and least of all for economic purposes. They found that most respondents thought a surprising 50% of land should be protected for nature. Watson led his address by stating how it is impossible to know if a protected area is being managed properly as few protected areas have objectives, and described the importance of conserving buffer areas for effective protection. He believes we need to work with industry and government to facilitate conservation plans that are balanced between all sectors, we must “think big and act fast”.

Research carried out by staff from the Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) contributed towards filling important gaps in knowledge within protected area science throughout the Congress. Dr. Oscar Venter presented his work within Stream 1 of the Congress, addressing potential outcomes of Aichi Targets 11 and 12 modeling biodiversity against different levels of protected area coverage. Venter found that existing protected areas perform poorly for coverage of threatened species, with only 15% of threatened vertebrates being adequately represented. Moreover, Venter highlighted that if future protected area expansion continues in a business-as-usual fashion, threatened species coverage will increase only marginally. Dr. Alienor Chauvenet and Dr. Martina Di Fonzo also contributed to Stream 1 sessions, with their respective studies introducing cost-effective ‘conservation landscapes’ and an excel-based decision support tool for prioritizing management actions that maximize persistence of threatened species in protected areas. Professor Hugh Possingham gave an inspiring presentation on optimal design of protected areas in the concluding session of Stream 1 talks, with key recommendations of improving protected area representativeness and management effectiveness.

The conference exhibition dome

So many exhibits, too little time!

The connection between people and nature was an important feature theme throughout many of the streams: a recognition that human well-being and biodiversity conservation is often inextricably linked. CEED members Dr. Richard Fuller and Dr. Danielle Shanahan had a strong presence in Stream 3. CEED researchers also contributed to the extensive discussions regarding human-wildlife conflicts, in particular the escalating trade in illegal wildlife and the conservation and social challenges that poses. These discussions took place in Streams 1 and 6 as well and culminated in a World Leader’s Dialogue. Dr. Duan Biggs contributed to the discussions on this escalating crisis, with specific emphasis on the evaluation of policy response options. Dr. Duan Biggs and Dr. Vanessa Adams contributed to a workshop on mental models and other decision support tools for conservation planning and management.

The workshop events at the Congress were well attended and covered topics such as database management and manipulation sessions (e.g. the World Database on Protected Areas), launching of new conservation tools (NatureWatch, Map of Life, Earth Engine and Global Forest Watch Google Tools), Biodiversity and Business sessions, Conservation Finance sessions. A stand-out workshop ran by Google demoed their new spatial tool, Earth Engine: Global Forest Watch. This tool allows you not only to see land-use change over time but also provides a user friendly method to calculate the changes in land use over time. The IUCN Red List of Ecosystems, The IUCN Green List for Protected areas, as well as the Protected Planet 2014 report were further knowledge products that were launched at the congress for tracking progress towards global biodiversity targets.  The IUCN Red List of Ecosystems Categories and Criteria will be a global standard for the assessment of ecosystems, applicable at local, national, regional and global levels (IUCN-CME 2014). The IUCN Green List of protected areas is a new global initiative that celebrates the success of effective protected areas, and encourages the sharing of that success so that other protected areas can also reach high standards (IUCN-WCPA 2014).  Finally, the Protected Planet report, produced by UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre, summarises global efforts to support and expand protected areas, and provides recommendations for targeted action.  A key finding of the report is that 15.4 per cent of terrestrial and inland water areas and 3.4 per cent of the global ocean are now protected.

The IUCN Congress concluded with a list of key conservation recommendations, known as “The Promise of Sydney”.  One of the key points of this document was the acknowledgement thatpercentage targets are problematic in focusing on area at the expense of biodiversity objectives”. Indeed, there was much speculation throughout the congress about setting new percentage targets as this can be misleading and could cause important objectives such as maximising the quality of protected areas to be over-looked. Nonetheless, many delegates argued that protected area targets should be set at around “30% of the planet for no take reserves, 50% overall protection, and 100% of the land and water should be managed sustainably.”

We look forward to working towards these promises and commitments over the next 2 years for the IUCN World Conservation Conference in Hawai’i and beyond to 2024, in which Russia will be hosting the next IUCN World Parks Congress. Thank you to the IUCN for organizing such a successful congress, and to all the people and funding institutions that have allowed CEED staff to attend this event.  We would like to end with one our favorite quotes from the congress: “Nature needs more. We need to keep protecting areas until nature starts to become annoying. When it gets to the point that we want to kill Koalas because there are too many around, or it’s too loud because there are so many birds in the forest: that’s when we will know we have protected enough.”~ Hugh Possingham.

For more information about the event  visit:

We thank University of Queensland CEED members Oscar Venter, Alienor Chauvenet, Duan Biggs, Danielle Shanahan and Claire Runge for their contributions to this write-up.

Visit to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

I had the good fortune of visiting Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in May to collaborate with Dr. Terry Walshe and Staff from the National Park Office in developing a Decision Support Tool for prioritising management of animal and plant species that are threatened with extinction.   From the moment I touched down to my last “sighting”, the landscape and stories of Australia’s “Red centre” did not cease to amaze me.   I hope our tool can enable managers to achieve the greatest gains for threatened species conservation per dollar spent.

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