New conservation tool calculates optimal time to spend finding habitat before protecting it

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The study examines how much time we should spend improving our knowledge of a species’ habitat before deciding which areas to protect, using the koala and northern abalone as examples. Credit: pixabay

Deciding when to stop learning and take action is a common but difficult decision in conservation. Using a new method, developed by researchers from the University of Queensland, the University of British Columbia and CSIRO (Australia’s national science agency), this trade-off can be managed by determining how much time to spend on research from the start. The results are published in the journal British Ecological Society Methods in ecology and evolution.

The work provides guidelines for the efficient allocation of resources between habitat identification and habitat protection, predicting the optimal time to transition to learning even when relatively little is known about a species and its habitat. Determining the optimal timing for habitat protection is essential if we are to ensure effective long-term protection.

Dr Abbey Camaclang, from the University of Queensland and lead author of the study, said: “Habitat protection can be more effective when we know more about species and their habitat needs, but delaying protection to improve our knowledge may lead to continued habitat loss and population declines. »

Using a simple model, the new method calculates how much time we should spend improving our knowledge of a species’ habitat before deciding which areas to protect, based on an estimated rate of habitat loss. habitat and the speed of knowledge acquisition. The researchers tested the method on two endangered species, the koala and the northern abalone (a sea snail). They found that the optimal time to spend on learning is short when threats are high. When habitat loss is low, the species benefits from better knowledge, which leads to an increase in the proportion of the species’ habitat protected.

Dr Camaclang explained: “Delaying habitat protection to improve our knowledge can sometimes be beneficial, but it is often better to protect habitats immediately than to wait for more information when rates of habitat loss are high.”

Professor Possingham, one of the co-authors from the University of Queensland, added: “Too often conservationists will delay action on the ground to seek more and more data, ignoring the fact that time and money are limited resources for conservation”.

Habitat protection is the most valuable action for conservation, but it requires understanding the habitat requirements for species of interest. Timely decisions can save species from extinction, but acting too soon could lead to protecting the wrong habitat, a costly and often irreversible decision.

The optimal time for habitat protection also depends on how much non-habitat we can afford to protect. Any land that is wrongly identified as habitat and protected unnecessarily can lead to conflicts with other land uses.

The new method developed in this study has the potential to be used in other areas of conservation decision-making. For example, to minimize the impact of harvesting wild plants and animals or to manage the adverse effects of invasive species. The approach can also be developed further, to provide guidance on optimizing field investigations, enabling conservationists to use time and funds more effectively.


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More information:
Abbey E. Camaclang et al, Predicting the Optimal Time to Spend on Learning Before Designating Protected Habitat for Threatened Species, Methods in ecology and evolution (2022). DOI: 10.1111/2041-210X.13770

Provided by the British Ecological Society

Quote: New conservation tool calculates optimal time to spend finding habitat before protecting it (January 13, 2022) Retrieved January 13, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-01-tool- optimal-habitat.html

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