Posts Tagged ‘Indicators’

13 important isssues for developing practical conservation goals

Monday, March 1st, 2010

In a review published in 2008 in Ecology Letters, David Lindenmayer and a long list of co-authors discuss some of the most important concepts used in describing, understanding and managing biodiversity and ecological processes at the landscape scale. These include classifying landscapes into habitats, describing and assessing their internal structure and condition, describing their disposition in space and time as well as their connections and hedge-effects.

Their review of these concepts is relatively broad but difficult to follow. It does not offer a very satisfying conclusion, except a worthwhile attempt to synthesize how these concepts relate to each other in a box-and-arrow diagram.

The more interesting part of their review is their suggestion of 13 important issues to be considered in developing practical goals for conservation. These are the following:

  • Develop long-term shared visions and quantifiable objectives
  • Manage the entire mosaic, not just the pieces
  • Consider both the amount and configuration of habitat and particular land cover types
  • Identify disproportionately important species, processes and landscape elements
  • Integrate aquatic and terrestrial environments
  • Use landscape classification and conceptual models appropriate to objectives
  • Maintain the capability of landscapes to recover from disturbances
  • Manage for change
  • Time lags between events and consequences are inevitable
  • Manage in a experimental framework
  • Manage both species and ecosystems
  • Manage at multiple scales
  • Allow for contingency
  • Each one of these issues is discussed in the paper and although they might seem trivial to some, lack of time or expertise often means they are not appropriately accounted for in the design of conservation policies. This situation makes the paper a useful reminder! The authors conclude by listing some key research topics including the challenge of making the enormous mass of ecological knowledge relevant to on-the-ground management of ecosystems and biodiversity. That’s a hard one!

    Is there a place for a binding “duty of care” for biodiversity conservation?

    Thursday, February 18th, 2010

    A recent article by G. Earl, A. Curtis and C. Allan in the journal Environmental Management discusses the feasibility of imposing a duty of care for biodiversity to land owners and land managers. They explore the specific case of Australia but many of their ideas resonate with the broader issue of developing an appropriate policy mix for conserving biodiversity outside protected areas. The authors argue that as an established legal principle, “duty of care” (rather than the looser moral obligation of “stewardship”) can relatively easily be applied to biodiversity. A government report published in 2001 also addressed this issue and the authors make an important contribution in proposing guidelines for actually implementing a duty of care policy.

    Picture of a Eucalyptus woodland by ButterflyHunter (

    One of the key points discussed in the article is that of setting clear goals for biodiversity: “desired outcomes” that must be set at the catchment or landscape level (or whichever administrative or management unit is appropriate). Establishing such goals would be a requirement for a duty of care policy but would of course be very useful to a whole suite of existing policies (including those based on the evaluation of impacts on biodiversity).

    The authors also argue that this desired outcome should probably be based on the maintenance of the ecosystem or landscape level processes that underpin biodiversity (as well as ecosystem services that are important to humans). However, they recognise that many of these are little known or hard to measure and that appropriate indicators might often rest in identifiable biodiversity components (species presence or abundance, habitat acreage…).

    The framework conforms with much of the current dialogue concerning biodiversity conservation across landscapes, in seeking to articulate quantifiable and ‘‘biophysically meaningful’’ desired outcomes for biodiversity that incorporate measures of size, configuration and connectivity of habitats, as well as vegetation condition measures that collectively act as surrogates for ecological processes.

    This dialogue is very much at the centre of any policy aimed at stopping biodiversity loss or improving its status, be it stewardship, duty of care, offset schemes or top-down command-and-control rules and regulations.

    Biodiversity indicators: 10 common mistakes

    Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

    In a paper published in 2003 in the Journal of Environmental Management, Lee Failing and Robin Gregory list 10 common mistakes made in designing biodiversity indicators for forest management. The paper is a worthy read for anyone dealing with issues of monitoring or decisions concerning land-use or ecosystem management.

    According to the authors, indicators can have three uses: tracking performance (for results-based management), discriminating alternative hypotheses (for scientific exploration), discriminating alternative policies or management options.

    In their paper, they focus on the latter. They list ten common mistakes made in developing and using biodiversity indicators aimed at providing guidance to policy makers or forest managers who must decide on landscape or forest management policies and plans. Deciding whether or not to allow a specific project to go forward requires a different suite of indicators than assessing whether or not the project was a success.

    They provide a nice example to illustrate their point:

    When we go to the doctors and ask “what is my risk of heart disease”, we do not expect the answer to be framed as a percentage of the target daily donut intake”. (…) Eating fewer donuts may be part of a sensible management strategy but it does not answer the question “am I healthy?” A report of two dozen indicators may be an important part of the the analysis process, but it is also not an acceptable answer to the question (…). Doctors it seems understand the need to take a complex thing, break it down into a relatively small number of indicators, and provide a summary judgement about the status of our health or the probability of recovery associated with alternative treatments.

    The 10 mistakes:

  • 1. Failing to define end-points – Is the aim to preserve ecosystem services or scenic value, to prevent the loss of a particular set of species or the intrinsic values and rights of all species.
  • 2. Mixing means and ends – Appropriate performance indicators should focus on the desired goals, not on whether “actions” were taken. Guideline are no substitute to goals.
  • 3. Ignoring the management context – Outside a specific context, “biodiversity” has no meaning – The context must thus be specified.
  • 4. Making lists instead of indicators
  • 5. Avoiding importance weights for individual indicators – Unfortunately, stating that “everything is important” doesn’t work in practice.
  • 6. Avoiding summary indicators or indices because they are considered overly simple
  • 7. Failing to link indicators to decisions
  • 8. Confusing value judgements with technical judgements
  • 9. Substituting data collection for critical thinking – If no data is available, then the authors suggest using established methods for gathering and synthesizing qualitative expert judgements.
  • 10. Oversimplifying: Ignoring spatial and temporal trade-offs – In giving examples for mistake 10, Failing and Gregory mention the importance of taking into account spatial and temporal trade-offs in designing policies aimed at no-net-loss of biodiversity. Temporary and /or local losses could provide – or be made to – provide gains at a broader scale or on the longer term. The same point is made by Kerry ten Kate in an EM podcast on making biodiversity offsets work (mp3).