Deciding when to stop learning and take action is a common, but difficult decision in conservation. Using a new method, developed by researchers at The University of Queensland, The University of British Columbia and CSIRO (Australia’s national science agency), this trade-off can be managed by determining the amount of time to spend on research at the outset. The findings are published in the British Ecological Society journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution.
The work provides guidelines on the effective allocation of resources between habitat identification and habitat protection, predicting the optimal time to spend learning even when relatively little is known about a species and its habitat. Determining the optimal timing for habitat protection is vital if we are to ensure effective, long-term protection.
Dr Abbey Camaclang, The University of Queensland and lead author of the study, said: “Habitat protection can be more effective when we know more about species and their habitat needs, but delaying protection to improve our knowledge can result in continued habitat loss and population declines.”
Using a simple model, the new method calculates how long we should spend improving our knowledge of a species’ habitat before deciding which areas to protect, based upon an estimated rate of habitat loss and speed of acquiring knowledge. The researchers tested the method on two threatened species, the koala and northern abalone (a sea snail). They found that optimal time to spend learning is short when the threats are high. When habitat loss is low, the species benefit from greater knowledge, leading to an increased proportion of the species’ habitat being protected.