Category Archives: Expert elicitation workshop

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


New paper: Trading off Persistence Targets with Numbers of Species

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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 have slightly lower optimal targets.  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.

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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