Editor’s Choice 55:5 – Value of information: when to learn and when to manage in conservation

The Editor’s Choice for issue 55:5 is written by Associate Editor, Hedley Grantham. The selected article is When to monitor and when to act: Value of information theory for multiple management units and limited budgets by Bennett et al.

Investment in data can improve our understanding of which management actions provide the greatest cost benefits, where and when. But many management decisions are not based on adequate amounts of data or information, and a lack of these can lead to bad decisions. A good example is the case of fisheries management. There is never perfect information on fish stocks, their population dynamics and catch information. Investment in data can lead to better decisions on how to manage the fishery, but not enough data can lead to bad decisions, which can result in overfishing.

Monitoring and the general investment in science and learning can be very expensive. For example, investment in monitoring can often consume 10% or more of conservation budgets in developed countries. This is all money that could be spent on improved management if more data is not leading to better decisions. So how do we decide how much is enough, particularly when funding for biodiversity conservation is often very limited?

55.5 - Christopher O_Brien2
The Carolina pigmy rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius miliarius) inhabits the coastal plain of North Carolina, USA. This subspecies, particularly the red morph shown here, is threatened by its high value in the pet trade as well as its vulnerability to vehicle traffic and habitat destruction. Photo by Chris O’Bryan, University of Queensland.

‘Value of information’ theory (VOI) is a tool to calculate the value increase from investing in better data or information to guide management (see Canessa et al. 2015 for a good review). Good examples of applying VOI to conservation management include when to actively manage invasive species versus learning more about them or how to manage a woodland when there is selective harvesting to ensure enough of it is in a healthy state over time.

There have, however, been, limitations with VOI up until now. One of these limitations has been the ability to deal with the often-realistic, but complex situation, where there are multiple combinations of monitoring and management strategies to consider. In this issue’s Editor’s Choice, Bennett et al, have developed a tool that can help undertake this type of analysis and they demonstrate it using two theoretical case studies of threatened species. The first case study explores how a conservation agency might invest their funds for potential 20-year stewardship agreements, where there are different landowners, varying costs of potential investments and outdated surveys of the threatened species they want to save. The second case study explores the situation where a conservation agency wants to invest money in threatened species to minimize extinction but the extinction risk across numerous species is not very well known. Money could either be spent on learning more about each species, or on their conservation.

Another limitation of applying VOI has been the technical difficultly in being able to run VOI analyses. As part of this study, Bennett et al. have provided spreadsheets and code to help conservation planners and managers undertake VOI. Navigating the complex trade-off between investing in data and new information or in management just got a lot easier!

Read the full Editor’s Choice article, When to monitor and when to act: Value of information theory for multiple management units and limited budgets in issue 55:5 of Journal of Applied Ecology.

3 thoughts on “Editor’s Choice 55:5 – Value of information: when to learn and when to manage in conservation

  1. Thanks for this very valuable review. As a land manager often working with highly constrained budgets and time-frames (and many site unknowns) rules of thumb and heuristics are what I progress with. Tis will change the way I view my sites.

    I often rank likely success, e.g. one hopes for 100% success e.g. defined as canopy closure in 5 yrs or evidence of seedling recruitment and self-regeneration in 10 years. On a very difficult site it might be 75% success e.g. needing remedial planting/additional weed control etc. And just occasionally success exceeds expectations and the site repair proceeds faster; diversity increases via bird seed dispersion from afar; allelopathic suppression of weeds occurs etc.


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