Biodiversity conservation research: Australia's priorities

Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council and Biological Diversity Advisory Committee
Commonwealth of Australia, 2001
ISBN 0 6425 4742 4

E. What are the management options?

As we have experienced with dryland salinity, the loss of ecosystem services can be catastrophic for native ecosystems and agricultural land alike. Loss of basic ecosystem services such as pollination can cause significant expenses in agriculture 43. There are risks in marine ecosystems if we allow depletion of fisheries stock and extensive trawling, as recovery cannot be guaranteed 44. Uncontrolled invasive species can over-run native ecosystems and reduce the production of resources for human use.

The potential risks encompass:

  • loss of genetic diversity within species;
  • extinction of threatened species;
  • damage to the integrity of ecosystems so that decline is inevitable;
  • loss of particular ecosystem services such as pollination;
  • impairment of critical ecosystem processes such as groundwater discharge that would prevent dryland salinity; and
  • irreversible damage to habitats such as draining coastal wetlands that act as fish hatcheries.

Where risks arise from proposed human activities, these can be assessed in advance and prevented or controlled as appropriate.

Management strategies and techniques need to be tailored to particular threats and environments. Modelling can assist us to predict effective management approaches. By monitoring the on-ground results of management strategies and techniques, we can update the models which in turn helps us make better decisions. The three processes – predictive modelling, management and monitoring – form the management loop referred to as active adaptive management. Active adaptive management is best practice management that integrates research and action.

Conservation reserves

Systems of conservation reserves need to be comprehensive, adequate and representative of the native ecosystems. Work to select a system of reserves is particularly necessary in marine, estuarine and freshwater environments. Criteria and methods for selecting conservation reserves need to be developed for these areas. The best options for reserve selection need to be compared, excluding and including socio-economic objectives as selection criteria. The impacts of industries on reserves and vice versa need to be identified. Predictive modelling would be a valuable tool (see priority 12).

One management option is to change the location of reserves as part of adaptive management. This strategy needs to be examined in terms of the quality of the conserved ecosystem and the ability of the habitat and ecological communities to recover from intermittent use. Where there could be significant biodiversity conservation gains, social science research would be needed to investigate if this approach is acceptable to the public.

Risk assessment

Activities that could affect biodiversity and ecosystem processes need to be subject to a risk assessment before being approved and this may necessitate research. Informed decision-making requires a full accounting of the environmental, social and economic benefits and losses that could result (see Section C). In many cases, by changing the way in which we carry out our activities we can minimise ecosystem disturbance. The greatest long-term benefits to the community may come from maintaining ecosystem services.

Environmental impact assessments (EIAs ) are routinely conducted to identify and assess the risks, from specific proposed activities, of adverse impacts on biodiversity conservation. Compliance with this requirement needs to be vigorously implemented at all levels of government. The EIAs need to take into account the potential cumulative risks to biodiversity from activities that are under way and any that have been approved, in addition to the proposal under consideration.

Routine risk analyses carried out prior to permitting the introduction of new species and new genetically modified organisms (GMOs ) into Australia may need to be strengthened to ensure that risks to native ecosystems are fully assessed and introductions are only permitted where the risks can be controlled in the short and the long term. The potential damage to biodiversity from invasive species and GMOs is discussed in Section D: What is Changing and Why?.

Predictive modelling

Some of the applications of predictive modelling have been discussed in the previous sections. Modelling can be used to predict the distribution of species and ecological communities (Section B: How Does Our Biodiversity Function?). Models can be developed to clarify the action of ecosystem processes and to identify the value of ecosystem services in the context of integrated natural resource management (Section C: What is the Value of Biodiversity Conservation?). Models can be used to identify the minimum threshold condition and extent of populations, species, ecological communities and ecosystems below which further loss will lead inevitably to continuing decline unless conservation interventions are successful (Section D: What is the Value of Biodiversity Conservation?).

Predictive modelling is valuable in identifying comprehensive, adequate and representative systems of conservation reserves that are efficient in achieving biodiversity objectives.

Modelling assists the wise management of natural resources. Models can be used, for instance, to determine the habitat condition and extent that is necessary in order to ensure the survival of threatened species and ecological communities – this information can be used to set targets and to guide protective actions and habitat restoration activities. Entire systems of management practices could be developed using models to design a package of ecologically sustainable practices for a particular industry.

As the development of predictive models can be resource intensive, research projects should be designed carefully to ensure the management gains are appropriate for the investment. All models should be rigorously monitored to verify the accuracy of the predictions and modified as new information comes to hand.

Management options

Whether management actions are selected following on-ground observations or sophisticated modelling, it is critically important to assess the effectiveness of on-ground practices. Biodiversity conservation targets need to be developed for each management option. Management strategies and techniques used in conservation areas and production systems need to be monitored to gauge how effectively they meet the targets, maintain ecosystem processes and reduce adverse impacts on native ecosystems.

Ecologically sustainable management techniques are urgently needed for agriculture, pastoralism and aquaculture in order to conserve native biodiversity and maintain ecosystem services.

The probable effect of management options should be identified using predictive modelling of ecosystems and the biophysical environment considering the effects of threatening processes and the full range of environmental, social and economic trade-offs.

Educational materials

Scientifically based educational materials and tools are needed to convey our knowledge of species, ecological communities, biophysical processes, habitats, ecosystem services, the effects of human activities, the value of biodiversity and the effects of making different natural resource management decisions.

The materials and tools need to be developed with particular target groups in mind so that the form is suitable to users such as: land holders and managers, industry, catchment and marine area management authorities, local councils and State and Commonwealth Governments, conservation organisations, the community, and writers and teachers of school curricula for the sciences, social sciences and economics.

In particular, there is a need to develop practical guidelines for private and public land holders to manage land and estuarine areas to maximise biodiversity retention and restoration and to maintain ecosystem processes, consistent with catchment and regional biodiversity management objectives.

We need to educate managers and the community about the benefits and limitations of applying predictive modelling in environmental decision-making.

Decision support systems

Predictive tools can be developed to support natural resource management decisions being made by local communities. These need to expand existing predictive models to encompass the full range of environmental, social and economic factors, make the interactions between processes transparent, and illustrate the trade-offs between different management and planning decisions.

Decision-making support systems are also valuable for management actions such as reserve design and selection, endangered species management, fire management, invasive species control and ecosystem restoration.

Priority research

10. Identifying a system of conservation reserves

Identify a comprehensive, adequate and representative system of conservation reserves covering all types of ecosystem.

Highest priority research

Identify a comprehensive, adequate and representative system of conservation reserves for:

  • marine and estuarine ecosystems; and
  • riverine, permanent and ephemeral wetland, ground water dependent and naturally saline ecosystems.

Identify the impacts of marine industries on marine reserves and vice versa.

See also priority (12): develop predictive tools to design conservation reserve systems that are efficient in achieving biodiversity objectives.

Research of national importance

  • Develop criteria and methods for selecting efficient reserve systems.
  • Identify threats to ecosystems in reserve areas (8) and propose protective management practices (11).

Application

To provide the basis for:

  • conserving ecosystems, ecological communities and species on the continent of Australia, in its marine waters and external territories; and
  • maintaining essential ecosystem services.

Related research

Prerequisite:

(1)-(6) identify and monitor changes in ecosystems, ecosystem processes, ecological communities and species
(8) identify threats to biodiversity conservation

Follow up:

(4) make data and information accessible
(13) develop and evaluate conservation management strategies and practices
(15) develop educational materials

Relevant policy commitments and legislation

National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity: Objective 1.4 and 4.1.4(a)-(b)

Convention on Biological Diversity: Article 8(a)-8(e)

Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999: Sections 171(2)(f) and 313-390J

Priority research

11. Assessing preventable risks to biodiversity conservation

Comprehensively assess the potential risks to biodiversity conservation from proposed human activities.

Highest priority research

In local areas, on a regional basis and nationally, conduct a comprehensive environmental impact assessment prior to permitting activities that present a significant threat to biodiversity conservation.

For example, assess the risks from introduced weeds, ferals, pests and diseases:

  • Prior to permitting the introduction of new species and new genetically modified organisms (GMOs ) to Australia, as part of the risk analysis conducted identify and investigate:
    • the potential direct and indirect impacts 45 on native species, ecological communities, ecosystems and the maintenance of ecosystem services; and
    • management conditions necessary to minimise threats to native ecosystems.
  • Identify species not yet in Australia which have the potential to become significant weeds, ferals, pests or disease organisms in native ecosystems.
  • Where the risk of introduction and potential subsequent damage are high, develop: methods of preventing introduction, a detection strategy and an emergency eradication plan (see priority 13).
  • Identify species present in Australia which have the potential to become or are becoming invasive. Determine if eradication or early control measures are likely to be efficient and effective.
  • Identify invasive species established in Australia.
  • Develop, monitor and assess the effectiveness of techniques to control and manage established invasive species (see priority 13).

Research of national importance

  • Conduct an environmental impact assessment (EIA) prior to permitting actions that could adversely affect biodiversity conservation. Assess potential cumulative risks to biodiversity from activities that are under way and any that have been approved in addition to the proposal under consideration.
  • Ensure an environmental risk analysis is carried out prior to permitting the release of introduced species and genetically modified organisms (GMOs ) into the environment.

Application

To provide the basis for:

  • preventing, controlling and managing human activities that are a risk to biodiversity conservation;
  • developing and assessing the effectiveness of methods and techniques used to reduce impacts and restore habitats and ecosystems; and
  • developing ecologically sustainable production practices.

Related research

Prerequisite:

(1)-(6) identify and monitor changes in ecosystems, ecosystem processes, ecological communities and species

Follow up:

(12) develop predictive models
(13) develop and evaluate conservation management strategies and practices
(14) develop ecologically sustainable industry practices
(15) develop educational materials

Relevant policy commitments and legislation

National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity: Objectives 1.1, 1.2.1(b) and 3.1-3.6

Convention on Biological Diversity: Articles 7(c), 8(g) and 8(h)

Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999: potential impacts Chapters 2 and 4; invasive species Section 301A

Priority research

12. Predicting effects on biodiversity conservation

Develop predictive modelling techniques to indicate the probable distribution of species and ecological communities, the dynamics of ecosystem processes, the total value of biodiversity conservation, the impact of threats on biodiversity and its value, the effect of management strategies and practices for biodiversity conservation and ecologically sustainable production.

Highest priority research

In selected threatened ecosystems, develop modelling techniques to predict:

  • critical thresholds below which the viability of species, ecological communities and ecosystem processes become subject to continuing decline and require intervention for maintenance or restoration.

Research of national importance

Develop predictive modelling techniques to indicate:

  • species composition change with physical and biophysical environmental changes;
  • where species and ecological communities could be expected to occur in regions;
  • ecosystem processes and their interaction with the dynamic biophysical environment;
  • the total economic, environmental and social value of biodiversity conservation at a range of scales including on farms, in local areas, in entire catchments including the estuary and associated marine area and in regions;
  • the impact of threatening processes on ecosystem processes, the maintenance of ecosystem services, the value of biodiversity conservation and the conservation status of species and ecological communities;
  • the impact of industry activities and conservation management practices on the viability of populations within species;
  • conservation reserve system designs that are efficient in achieving biodiversity objectives;
  • the threshold condition and extent below which the further loss of habitat and loss within species and ecological communities causes:
    • inevitable further decline in the ecological community; and
    • unacceptable biodiversity losses in the short and long term;
  • the extent of loss that can occur from all causes without jeopardising ecosystem sustainability;
  • the effect of existing and proposed management strategies and practices on biodiversity conservation; and
  • practices that would enhance the ecological sustainability of industries such as agriculture, pastoralism, aquaculture, forestry and fisheries.

Audit the models to verify the accuracy of the predictions, using targeted sampling.

Application

To provide the basis for:

  • predicting the impact of human activities;
  • developing management strategies and on-ground practices to maintain and restore ecological communities, habitat and ecosystems locally and across regions;
  • developing ecologically sustainable production practices; and
  • making decisions within an integrated natural resource management framework.

Comments

  • Reliable models are important conservation management tools for biodiversity.
  • All models should be rigorously monitored to verify the accuracy of the predictions, and updated or rejected when they cease to be best practice.
  • As the development of predictive models can be resource intensive, research projects should be selected to maximise the likely management gains for the investment.

Related research

Prerequisite:

(1)-(6) identify and monitor changes in ecosystems, ecosystem processes, ecological communities and species

Follow up:

(10) identify a system of conservation reserves
(11) assess preventable risks from proposed activities
(13) develop and evaluate conservation management strategies and practices
(14) develop ecologically sustainable industry practices
(15) develop educational materials

Relevant policy commitments and legislation

National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity: Objective 4.1.3(a)

Priority research

13. Managing for biodiversity conservation

Develop, monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of management strategies and on-ground practices in restoring and maintaining ecosystem processes and reducing adverse impacts on native ecosystems.

Highest priority research

In selected areas, such as farms and entire catchments including the estuary and the associated marine area, develop planning techniques for identifying management options to retain and restore biodiversity. For each management option, identify:

  • the full economic, social and environmental benefits;
  • implementation costs and benefits;
  • the long term consequences and costs of not taking the management action; and
  • efficient ways to monitor and re-evaluate management decisions.

For example, develop methods to mitigate habitat fragmentation caused by land clearing, benthic trawling, and land and marine industry activities - see also priority (8):

  • Develop and assess the effectiveness of methods to reduce the impacts of habitat fragmentation. For instance, compare the value of different types of vegetation corridors, features such as mature paddock trees, and different habitat fragment patch sizes and shapes.
  • Develop and assess the effectiveness of techniques used to restore native habitats, re-establish and regenerate vegetation and benthic fauna, restore micro-organisms with key ecosystem functions, and return or attract native animals including invertebrates
  • Carry out the above research within the framework of adaptive management, where actions are modified as a result of knowledge gained through sound experimental design.

See also priority (14) – developing ecologically sustainable industry practices.

Research of national importance

Develop, monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of management strategies and on-ground practices in maintaining and restoring ecosystem processes and reducing adverse impacts on native ecosystems. Develop strategies applicable at a range of scales from individual farms to catchments and regions.

In particular, consider management practices implemented to:

  • prevent and control threats;
  • ameliorate and repair damage to habitats and ecosystems;
  • lead to the recovery of threatened species, ecological communities and ecosystems; and
  • achieve ecologically sustainable production.

Application

To provide the basis for:

  • maintaining and restoring biodiversity;
  • developing recovery plans for threatened species and ecological communities, wildlife conservation plans and threat abatement plans;
  • developing management strategies applicable to local areas and regions;
  • integrating natural resource management decisions; and
  • developing ecologically sustainable industry practices.

Related research

Prerequisite:

(1)-(6) identify and monitor changes in ecosystems, ecosystem processes, ecological communities and species
(8) identify threats to biodiversity conservation
(9) determine the conservation status of species and ecological communities
(11) assess preventable risks from proposed activities
(12) develop predictive models

Concurrent:

(14) develop ecologically sustainable industry practices

Follow up:

(15) develop educational materials

Relevant policy commitments and legislation

National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity: Objectives 1.2, 1.3, 1.4.2, 1.5.2, 1.7.1, 3.7.1, 4.1.3(b) and 4.1.4(c)

Convention on Biological Diversity: Articles 6(a), 8(f), 10

Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999: Sections 3A(d), 171(2)(e), 176, 270, 271 and 287.

Priority research

14. Developing ecologically sustainable industry practices

Develop, monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of ecologically sustainable management strategies and techniques for industry.

Highest priority research

Develop ecologically sustainable management strategies and techniques for:

  • agriculture;
  • pastoralism; and
  • aquaculture.

Research of national importance

  • Investigate how ecosystem processes and ecologically valuable native biodiversity can be maintained and restored within multiple use landscapes and marine areas.
  • Develop ecologically sustainable management strategies and techniques for:
    • intensely managed production systems such as agriculture, pastoralism, horticulture, forestry, aquaculture and fisheries; and
    • other industries that impact on landscapes and marine areas, for instance, tourism, oil and gas exploration and mining.
  • Develop environmental management systems (EMS ) that ameliorate impacts on native ecosystems and enhance biodiversity conservation.

Application

To provide the basis for:

  • off-reserve biodiversity conservation; and
  • achieving ecological sustainability throughout Australia.

Related research

Prerequisite:

(1)-(6) identify and monitor changes in ecosystems, ecosystem processes, ecological communities and species
(8) identify threats to biodiversity conservation
(9) determine the conservation status of species and ecological communities
(11) assess preventable risks from proposed activities
(12) develop predictive models

Follow up:

(16) develop educational materials

Relevant policy commitments and legislation:

National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity: Objectives 2.2-2.7 and 4.1.3

Convention on Biological Diversity: Articles 6, 8(i), 10(a) and 10(e)

Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999: Sections 3(1)(b) and 3A(d)

Priority research

15. Developing educational materials and decision support systems

Develop scientifically-based educational materials to convey our knowledge of biodiversity conservation and develop sophisticated tools to support decision-making.

Highest priority research

Develop scientifically-based educational materials to convey our knowledge of species, ecological communities, biophysical processes, habitats, ecosystem services, the effects of human activities, the value of biodiversity and the effects of making different natural resource management decisions.

  • Make these materials available in forms suitable for use by land holders, industry, catchment and marine area management authorities, government and the community.

Develop decision-making support systems that:

  • incorporate predictive modelling tools taking into account the full range of environmental, social and economic factors;
  • make transparent the interactions between processes, changes over time and the trade-offs required when different management and planning decisions are made; can be adapted as new data and more complex information becomes available;
  • and can be applied:
    • by local communities to support community debate;
    • on farms; and
    • more broadly across landscapes, in entire catchments including the estuary and associated marine areas, in bioregions and nationally.

Research of national importance

Develop scientifically-based educational materials to convey our knowledge of:

  • the distribution of species and ecological communities;
  • interactions between biodiversity and biophysical processes;
  • the role of biodiversity in maintaining ecosystem services;
  • the effects of human activities on biodiversity and the maintenance of ecosystem services;
  • the full environmental, economic and social value of biodiversity;
  • the role of research and predictive modelling in conservation management; and
  • the effect of different local and regional management decisions on biodiversity conservation and other natural resource outcomes.

Where predictive modelling is used as the basis for the educational and decision support tools, audit the models to verify the accuracy of the predictions.

Make these materials and tools available in forms suitable for use by land holders and managers, industry, catchment and marine area management authorities, government at all levels, the community, and writers and teachers of curricula for the sciences, social sciences and economics.

In developing educational materials and decision support tools, carry out social research to ensure the design is effective for the target groups.

Application

To provide the basis for:

  • increasing awareness of the value of native biodiversity components and ecosystem services;
  • informing community debate on decisions in integrated natural resource management;
  • promoting ecologically sustainable production systems;
  • using information as a policy tool to address market failure; and explaining government policies that promote biodiversity conservation.

Related research

Prerequisite:

(1)-(6) identify and monitor changes in ecosystems, ecosystem processes, ecological communities and species
(8) identify threats to biodiversity conservation
(9) determine the conservation status of species and ecological communities
(11) assess preventable risks from proposed activities
(12) develop predictive models
(13) develop and evaluate conservation management strategies and practices
(14) develop ecologically sustainable industry practices

Relevant policy commitments and legislation

National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity: Objectives 5.1 and 5.2

Convention on Biological Diversity: Articles 13(a) and 13(b)

Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999: Section 3(1)(d)

Footnotes

43. Honey bees are declining in North America from diseases including mite infestations (Watanabe, 1994). If land clearing and the use of chemicals had not been so widespread, native pollinators could have provided this ecosystem service estimated to be worth US$ 4-7 billion each year in the USA (Nabhan and Buchmann, 1997).

44. In Canada, cod fishing stock declined over a decade to the mid-1970s. Despite some increase in the mid-1980s and a moratorium on commercial fishing in the 1990s, the cod fishing stock remains at a very low level and there is no evidence of a recovery (DFO , 2001).

45. Impacts can be caused directly by the new species, variety or genetically modified organism or indirectly through the transfer of novel characteristics following interbreeding. Cumulative effects of new transgenes need to be considered.