Dbytes #285 (27 April 2017)

Info & news for members and associates of the Environmental Decisions Group

“Would we knock down the pyramids or flatten the Acropolis to make way for housing estates, roads or farms? You would hope not… …Yet right now, across our planet, many of the United Nations’ World Heritage sites that have been designated for natural reasons are being rapidly destroyed in the pursuit of short-term economic goals.”
James Watson, James Allan and Sean Maxwell in The Conversation


General News

1. Invasive species: A leading threat to Australia’s wildlife
2.
Commentary: Is the [US] Endangered Species Act facing extinction?
3. Defending scientific integrity in conservation policy processes: lessons from Canada, Australia, and the United States
4. Saved: the endangered species back from the brink of extinction
5. Night Parrot: What happens when the world’s most endangered species is discovered on your property

EDG News

ANU Node: Stephanie Pulford and colleagues on remnant vegetation, plantings, and fences are beneficial for reptiles in agricultural landscapes
RMIT node:
Laura Mumaw and Sarah Bekessy on Wildlife gardening for collaborative public–private biodiversity conservation
UWA Node:
Impact of water allocation strategies to manage groundwater resources in Western Australia: Equity and efficiency considerations
UQ Node:
Martina Di Fonzo and colleagues on a the ‘Cost-Effective Resource Allocator’ tool for prioritising management actions
UMelb Node: David Duncan returns to UMelb to work on Buloke restoration

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General News

1. Invasive species: A leading threat to Australia’s wildlife

Invasive Species Council report: Habitat loss is often assumed to be the main threatening process in Australia, but the evidence indicates that invasive species have caused the most animal extinctions, and pose the main threat to some animal groups. The evidence for this comes from a number of sources and is summarised in this report, firstly as it applies to threatened species (drawing upon three studies), secondly to threatened ecological communities, and thirdly to extinct animals.
https://invasives.org.au/publications/invasive-species-leading-threat/

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2. Commentary: Is the [US] Endangered Species Act facing extinction?
Before we overhaul the Endangered Species Act, we should better understand what it means to deliberately allow a species to go extinct.

http://www.csmonitor.com/Technology/Breakthroughs-Voices/2017/0413/Commentary-Is-the-Endangered-Species-Act-facing-extinction?cmpid=gigya-tw

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3. Defending scientific integrity in conservation policy processes: lessons from Canada, Australia, and the United States

Government agencies faced with politically controversial decisions often discount or ignore scientific information, whether from agency staff or non-governmental scientists. Recent developments in scientific integrity (the ability to perform, use, communicate and publish science free from censorship or political interference) in Canada, Australia and the United States demonstrate a similar trajectory: a perceived increase in scientific integrity abuses is followed by concerted pressure by the scientific community, leading to efforts to improve scientific integrity protections under a new administration. However, protections are often inconsistently applied, and are at risk of reversal under administrations that are publicly hostile to evidence-based policy. We compare recent challenges to scientific integrity to determine what aspects of scientific input into conservation policy are most at risk of political distortion and what can be done to strengthen safeguards against such abuses. To ensure the integrity of outbound communication from government scientists to public, we suggest that governments strengthen scientific integrity policies, include scientists’ right to speak freely in collective bargaining agreements, guarantee public access to scientific information, and strengthen agency culture supporting scientific integrity. To ensure the transparency and integrity with which information from non-governmental scientists (e.g., submitted comments or formal policy reviews) informs the policy process, we suggest that governments broaden the scope of independent reviews, ensure greater diversity of expert input with transparency regarding conflicts of interest, require substantive response to input from agencies, and engage proactively with scientific societies. For their part, scientists and scientific societies have a civic responsibility to engage with the wider public to affirm that science is a crucial resource for developing evidence-based policy and regulations that are in the public interest.

Carroll C, Hartl B, Goldman GT, Rohlf DJ, Treves A, Kerr JT, Ritchie EG, Kingsford RT, Gibbs KE, Maron M, Watson JEM. (2017) Defending scientific integrity in conservation policy processes: lessons from Canada, Australia, and the United States. PeerJ Preprints 5:e2946v1 https://doi.org/10.7287/peerj.preprints.2946v1

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4. Saved: the endangered species back from the brink of extinction

Human activity has put wildlife around the world at risk, but many creatures are now thriving thanks to conservationists

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/apr/08/endangered-species-conservation-successes?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

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5. Night Parrot: What happens when the world’s most endangered species is discovered on your property

Thought to be extinct, the discovery of the night parrot on a remote Queensland cattle station was thrilling for the science world … but not so for the grazier. Kathy McLeish went bush to find out what happens when the world’s most endangered species turns up on your property.
The night parrot disappeared more than a hundred years ago and was long thought to be extinct.

But it was in fact, hiding in plain sight.

So what happens when one of the world’s most endangered species turns up on your property?

For one landholder it’s actually proved to be a positive.

http://www.abc.net.au/landline/content/2017/s4650656.htm

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EDG News

ANU Node: Stephanie Pulford and colleagues on remnant vegetation, plantings, and fences are beneficial for reptiles in agricultural landscapes
How do remnant patches, paddock types and grazing regimes influence reptile assemblages in a grazing landscape? At 12 sites, we surveyed reptiles and environmental covariates in remnant woodland patches and in four paddock types: a) grazed pasture, b) linear plantings, c) coarse woody debris added to grazed pasture and d) fences between grazed pasture. Each site was either continuously or rotationally grazed. Remnant vegetation and other vegetation attributes such as tree cover and leaf litter greatly influenced reptiles. We recorded higher reptile abundance and species richness in areas with more tree cover and leaf litter. For rare species (captured in ≤4 sites <70 captures) there were 5.7 more animals and 2.6 more species in sites with 50% woody cover within 3 km compared to 5% woody cover. The abundance and richness of rare species, and one common species differed between paddock types and were higher in linear plantings and fence transects compared to coarse woody debris and pasture transects.
Synthesis and applications: Grazed paddocks, particularly those with key features such as fences and plantings can provide habitat for reptiles. This suggests that discrete differentiation between patch and matrix does not apply for reptiles in these systems. Management to promote reptile conservation in agricultural landscapes should involve protecting existing remnant vegetation, regardless of amount; and promote key habitat features of trees, leaf litter and shrubs. Establishing plantings and fences is important as they support high numbers of less common reptiles and may facilitate reptiles to move through and use greater amounts of the landscape.
Ref: Pulsford, S. A., Driscoll, D. A., Barton, P. S. and Lindenmayer, D. B. (2017), Remnant vegetation, plantings, and fences are beneficial for reptiles in agricultural landscapes. J Appl Ecol. Accepted Author Manuscript. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1365-2664.12923/full

RMIT node: Laura Mumaw and Sarah Bekessy on Wildlife gardening for collaborative public–private biodiversity conservation
In this article we explore how the Knox Gardens for Wildlife program, a collaboration between a municipality (Knox City Council) and community group (Knox Environment Society) in greater Melbourne involves residents in gardening to help conserve indigenous biodiversity. We used semi-structured interviews and Council survey data to identify key program features that engaged and supported members to modify their gardening: on site garden assessment; community nursery; communication hubs; a framework that fosters experiential learning and community linkages; and endorsement of each garden’s potential contribution. We discuss the implications for managing urban landscapes for biodiversity conservation.
Ref: Mumaw L & S Bekessy (2017). Wildlife gardening for collaborative public–private biodiversity conservation. Aust Journal of Environ Manag.
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14486563.2017.1309695


UWA Node: Impact of water allocation strategies to manage groundwater resources in Western Australia: Equity and efficiency considerations
Globally, billions of people depend on groundwater resources. Groundwater accounts for about 50% of global drinking water and 43% of global irrigation. In Australia, 5,000GL of water is sourced from groundwater per year, providing almost one-third of the total drinking water and 70% of the water used in agriculture. There are also many groundwater dependent ecosystems of significant ecological value. However, in many parts of the world groundwater is being depleting at an alarming rate causing substantial economic, environmental and ecological loss. Where groundwater extraction is licenced, regulators often respond to resource depletion by reducing all individual licences by a fixed proportion. This approach can be effective in achieving a reduction in the volume of water extracted, but the approach is not efficient. In water resource management the issue of the equity efficiency trade-off has been explored in a number of contexts, but not in the context of allocation from a groundwater system. To contribute to this knowledge gap we conduct an empirical case study for Western Australia’s most important groundwater system: the Gnangara Groundwater System (GGS). Resource depletion is a serious issue for the GGS, and substantial reductions in groundwater extraction are required to stabilise the system. Using an individual-based farm optimization model we study both the overall impact and the distributional impact of a fixed percentage water allocation cut to horticulture sector licence holders. The model is parameterised using water licence specific data on farm area and water allocation. The modelling shows that much of the impact of water allocation reductions can be mitigated through changing the cropping mix and the irrigation technology used. The modelling also shows that the scope for gains through the aggregation of holdings into larger farms is much greater than the potential losses due to water allocation reductions. The impact of water allocation cuts is also shown to impact large farms more than small farms. Adoption of a more efficient approach would allow to stabilize groundwater resources at lower cost.
Ref: James Fogarty & Md Sayed Iftekhar (2017). Impact of water allocation strategies to manage groundwater resources in Western Australia: Equity and efficiency considerations, Journal of Hydrology, 548, p145–156. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhydrol.2017.02.052

UQ Node: Martina Di Fonzo and colleagues on a the ‘Cost-Effective Resource Allocator’ tool for prioritising management actions
Faced with increasing rates of biodiversity loss and modest conservation budgets, it is essential that natural resource managers allocate their financial resources in a cost-effective manner and provide transparent evidence for extra funding. We develop the ‘Cost-Effective Resource Allocator’, a Microsoft Excel-based decision support tool to assist natural resource managers and policy makers to prioritise the set of management strategies that maximise the total number of years that a suite of species are expected to persist given a budget constraint. We describe this tool using a case-study of four locally threatened species from the Australian Commonwealth National Park of Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean. These include: a native fern (Pneumatopteris truncata), the Christmas Island Red Crab (Gecarcoidea natalis), the Golden Bosun (Phaethon lepturus fulvus), and Abbott’s Booby (Papasula abbotti). Under a hypothetical budget of 8,826,000 AUD over ten years, in which all species are considered equal, our tool recommends funding: fern propagation and planting, rat control, cat control, and Yellow Crazy Ant (Anoplolepis gracilipes) survey and control. We found that the cost-effectiveness rankings of these strategies were sensitive to the importance that assessors’ assigned to different species. The ‘Cost-Effective Resource Allocator’ can accommodate input from up to eight assessors, and analyse a maximum of 50 management strategies for 30 species.
Ref: 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
https://martinadifonzo.wordpress.com/2017/04/20/introducing-the-cost-effective-resource-allocator-a-free-tool-for-prioritising-management-actions/

UMelb Node: David Duncan returns to UMelb to work on Buloke restoration
David Duncan recently returned to Melbourne University for a one-year research fellowship with Peter Vesk on native vegetation management problems for NESP and CEED. On the NESP side he’ll be joining his efforts to the problem of restoring the nationally Endangered Buloke Woodland community in the Mallee Parks of north-west of Victoria, where there is a persistent and concerning lack of regeneration of the dominant structural species Buloke and Slender Pine. In his CEEDier moments he’ll be exploring broader decision problems of woody regeneration. David returned to Australia in January having spent 2015&16 lecturing and developing courses in statistics at the Universidad Técnica Particular de Loja in Ecuador.
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About Dbytes
Dbytes is the eNewsletter of the Environmental Decisions Group. It is edited and distributed by David Salt. If you have any contributions to Dbytes (ie, opportunities and resources that you think might think be of value to other Dbyte readers) please send them to David.Salt@anu.edu.au. Please keep them short and provide a link for more info. While Dbytes is primarily aimed at members of the EDG, anyone is welcome to receive it.

About EDG
The Environmental Decision Group (EDG) is a network of conservation researchers working on the science of effective decision making to better conserve biodiversity. Our members are largely based at the University of Queensland, the Australian National University, the University of Melbourne, the University of Western Australia, RMIT and CSIRO.

Decision Point: http://www.decision-point.com.au/

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