Category Archives: New paper

How permanent are conservation covenants?

Stony Rises 1

Conserving the important biodiversity that exists on private land is a growing part of international conservation efforts. In many countries, including Australia, Canada, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States, conservation policies often support the implementation of conservation covenants and easements. These are legally binding agreements with private landholders and are registered on the title of the property. These agreements are designed to last forever (‘in perpetuity’), and oblige current and future owners to protect the ecological values on their property. Key to these agreements is that the ecological values be permanent and secure, ensuring that they remain in place through time. For this reason such agreements are designed to be difficult to remove, in most cases requiring authority from multiple parties, including a government Minister. This degree of security is an important element in the formal recognition of conservation covenants and easements as Privately Protected Areas (PPAs) that are counted towards international conservation targets.

However, there are threats to these agreements that could affect their longevity and thus the security of the ecological values they protect. Pressures from mining, changes of property ownership, changing economic conditions and alterations in government policy, raise questions about the permanence of conservation agreements on private land. As a result, some conservation stakeholders view these private conservation areas as less secure than public conservation areas.

Collecting data from all 13 major covenanting programs across Australia, we set out to understand just how permanent these agreements actually are. We looked at instances where covenants had been released (taken off title) or breached (where a landholder had not met their obligations to protect the ecological value, but where the covenant had stayed on title), and the reasons behind these. We found that out of the 6,818 multi-party covenants (those that require authority from multiple parties for removal), only 8 had been removed from title. The data on breaches were less clear, mainly because breaches are very difficult for covenanting organisations to identify. However we did find 71 known cases across Australia where covenant obligations had not been met.

Our study suggests that covenants are an important and enduring mechanism for conserving biodiversity on private land. With a focus on private land conservation policy, we use the results from this case study to highlight the importance of monitoring and reporting on releases and breaches to understand why they are occurring and to ensure that PPAs remain effective in their contribution to international conservation efforts into the long-term. We also provide recommendations for covenanting organisations on how to improve their monitoring programs.

Reference (you can download the full article for free!)
Hardy MJ, Fitzsimons JA, Bekessy SA and A Gordon (2016). Exploring the permanence of conservation covenants. Conservation Letters DOI: 10.1111/conl.12243 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/conl.12243/abstract

Nature comment on biodiversity offsetting

Some colleagues and I have a Comment piece that has come out today in Nature. The article outlines the risks associated with using offsets to achieve pre-existing commitments, such as those to which nations have committed under the Convention on Biological Diversity and the World Heritage Convention.

We recommend that while it is often appropriate for offsets to create and manage new protected areas, these outcomes should be accounted for separately from progress towards existing commitments such as the Aichi targets, in order to avoid offsets simply replacing government funding for protected areas. We argue that future international agreements should require separate accounting of conservation gains that were possible only because of equivalent losses, and benefits from the new protected areas funded by offsets should always be reported alongside the losses that triggered their protection.

Here is the link to the article: http://www.nature.com/news/conservation-stop-misuse-of-biodiversity-offsets-1.18010.

Citation: Maron, M., Gordon, A., Mackey, B. G., Possingham, H. P. and Watson, J. E. M. 2015. Stop misuse of biodiversity offsets. Nature 523, 401–403; doi:10.1038/523401a

In addition the ABC has written an article on this topic which you can see here: http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2015/07/23/4278534.htm

The conservation value of urban green space habitats for Australian native bee communities

Luis Mata's research

This post is about a new paper titled ‘The conservation value of urban green space habitats for Australian native bee communities’ we have recently published in Biological Conservation that assesses whether networks of urban green spaces can be managed to provide bee habitat in urban landscapes.

We set out to address this question by exploring the distribution patterns of 19 bee species in south-eastern Melbourne (Victoria, Australia), including both native species, such as the short-tongued ground-nesting bees Homalictus sphecodoides and Lasioglossum brunnesetum, and exotic species, such as the European Honeybee Apis mellifera.

Homalictus sphecodoides (Reiner Richter - BowerBird)

Lasioglossum brunnesetum (Reiner Richter - BowerBird)

Apis mellifera The short-tongued ground-nesting native Australian bees Homalictus sphecodoides (Top) and Lasioglossum brunnesetum (Middle), and the exotic European Honeybee Apis mellifera (Bottom). Photos by Reiner Richter (top and middle) and myself (bottom). Native species identified by Ken Walker.

We found that providing resources critical to diverse bee communities (eg, native plants) can assist in maintaining…

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Could perverse incentives undermine biodiversity offset policies?

We’ve just had a published in Journal of Applied Ecology that examines potential perverse incentives resulting from biodiversity offsetting. We outline some of the ways in which even best-practice offsetting could end up being bad for biodiversity, and discuss how to reduce the risks of perverse outcomes.

The paper is available here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1365-2664.12398/abstract

Conserving insect assemblages in urban landscapes: accounting for species-specific responses and imperfect detection

Luis Mata's research

This post is a about a new paper in the Journal of Insect Conservation.

Using the El Maresme shire (north-eastern Spain) as the study area and heteropteran bugs as model organisms, my colleagues (Marta Goula & Amy Hahs) and I set out to explore the effects of urbanization on insects.

An illustration of the brachypterous form of Ischnodemus sabuleti (Fallén, 1826) by Aleksandar Stojanović. An illustration of the brachypterous form of Ischnodemus sabuleti (Fallén, 1826) by Aleksandar Stojanović.

I was especially impressed by the large diversity of bugs species that we found in our survey. The field work yielded 142 different species of heteropteran bugs. Since the heteropteran bug gamma diversity of El Maresme is known to be  323 species1, we can estimate that our study collected detection and occupancy data for almost 45% of the heteropteran bug species known to the region. Among these species was the ash-grey leafbug Piesma maculatum (Laporte, 1833), a species that had not been seen in El…

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Detectability, threatened species and environmental impact assessments

Georgia Garrard

This blog post is about an upcoming paper in Conservation Biology.

It is now widely accepted that many species are not perfectly detectable during an ecological survey. This means that, sometimes, a species that is present at a site will not be detected by an observer (or observers) during a survey of that site.

The probability that the species will be detected if it is present (its ‘detectability’) is influenced by many factors. One of the most important factors is the level of effort put into the survey – in general, the more effort that is expended, the higher the chance of detecting the species.

Detectability curve showing how the probability of detecting a species when it is present increases with survey effort Detectability curve showing how the probability of detecting a species when it is present increases with survey effort

But why do we care? Well, there are many reasons. Imperfect detectability affects our ability to determine a range of important ecological metrics, such as the…

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Biodiversity offsets could be locking in species decline

Biodiversity offset policies are an increasingly common part of biodiversity conservation strategies in Australia and around the world.  But how well do they work?  Ascelin Gordon and Martine Maron explain how biodiversity offsets may – perversely – provide an incentive for the continuing decline of the species they are designed to protect.

Read about it here.