Many conservation organisations are striving to undertake evidence-based management to help guide effective management of natural systems. This is where the best available evidence, like ecological research or monitoring data, are used to support management decisions. An important feature of evidence-based management is that it can assist conservation practitioners in making often difficult decisions about when to intervene in a system to prevent undesirable changes.
Decision triggers are one approach that can be useful to help link monitoring data with management decisions. Decision triggers represent a point or zone in the status of a monitored variable indicating when management intervention is required to address undesirable ecosystem changes (Figure 1).
In a collaborative project with Dr Kelly de Bie and Dr Carly Cook, we have been exploring with conservation practitioners from Australia and New Zealand how decision triggers could be applied to support evidence-based management of natural systems. Through a series of three papers we explored (Figure 2):
1) The science behind decision triggers, and why conservation scientists are embracing the concept (see our Biological Conservation paper).
2) Conservation practitioners’ perspectives on the current use and potential future application of decision triggers for protected area management (see our Journal of Applied Ecology paper).
3) Guidance for practitioners to integrate decision triggers within existing conservation planning & management frameworks, and recommended tools to help develop decision triggers (see our final paper in the Journal of Applied Ecology).
Our studies have found that there is support from both researchers and practitioners for the use of decision triggers in the management of natural systems. However, setting meaningful decision triggers for management remains a daunting task.
In our final paper, we draw on the depth of existing management, evaluation and conservation planning frameworks designed to promote adaptive decision-making processes, to illustrate critical stages to integrate evidence in decision-making, and highlight where development and implementation of decision triggers fits in. Importantly, we also identify a range of methods for setting decision triggers that are suitable for different management contexts (ranging from data-rich and data-poor environments, and decisions involving single vs. multiple management objectives).
We believe that decision triggers can be integrated into existing frameworks, and if applied in practice will help fill a critical gap in evidence-based conservation – helping close the loop between monitoring and management action.
To help continue this great collaborative project, we are offering a fully funded PhD scholarship to work with our team and led by Dr Carly Cook at Monash University. The candidate will undertake an innovative project investigating the development of triggers for management action, to guide decisions about when to intervene in the management of threatened species. Please see Carly Cook’s PhD opportunities page for more information.