AMCS, Fort Collins CO

USGS Fort CollinsMy second stop was Fort Collins CO for the 2014 Adaptive Management Conference Series. This is a small, relatively informal gathering of USGS, FWS and academic scientists who work on adaptive management projects across the country. Speakers are offered 30-60 minute blocks to speak, allowing a rare opportunity to discuss issues in depth.

On Wednesday, Drew Tyre opened the conference with a neat set of rapidly-prototyped case studies, each calling for different styles of conflict resolution, expert elicitation and quantitative modeling. In the afternoon we heard a series of presentations about selecting surrogate species for broad-scale monitoring. This is a decision problem with a huge scope – involving vast areas, numerous stakeholders, and a dizzying array of alternatives – that will surely benefit from a structured approach.

Disease managementOn Thursday, presentations were centred around the classic application, adaptive harvest management. I learned a lot about how this program has expanded to various hunted species across the United States. Early career researchers Brian Gerber, Perry Williams and Adam Green presented the latest in statistical modelling, nuanced objective functions and optimisation approaches – I’ll be keeping an eye out for their publications. In the final session of the day, PhD student Noelle Hart stimulated a discussion comparing decision theoretic and resilience philosophies of adaptive management, another topic I want to read and think more about.

On Friday, Will Probert got us into some optimisation algorithms (yay!) for livestock disease management, Lianne Ball forecast challenges for wind farm conservation mitigation, and Jill Gannon presented one of the most advanced adaptive management programs I’ve ever been exposed to. They’ve not just closed the loop, but run around it four times! And they’ve developed some impressive systems for placing data management and analysis back into the hands of the project coordinators. Gannon’s report on native prairie adaptive management has shot straight to the top of my to-read list.

This is just the stuff to recharge my enthusiasm for adaptive management research (if it were ever waning!). I’m grateful to Bill Kendall and Cathy Cullinane Thomas for making it all happen in the face of delays and other obstacles.

USGS, Gainesville FL

USGS Gainesville
I’m currently off campus for seven weeks, making a few visits through the United States and then taking some leave. Stop number 1 is USGS in Gainesville FL to visit Fred Johnson and Mathieu Bonneau.

I first met Fred a little over 10 years ago, when I was a PhD student working on optimal harvest strategies for wildlife. Since the 1990s Fred has contributed to the enormous and enormously successful waterfowl adaptive harvest management program, and we even got to write a paper together about Canada Goose management.

Mathieu Bonneau has only just left the University of Melbourne himself, where he’s been pitching in with optimal resource allocations for hawkweed monitoring. Now he’s working with Fred on other optimal invasion management problems and taking an interest in dynamic reserve selection too.

It was fun to see where Fred and Mathieu are based, to make a little progress on Mathieu’s and my ongoing hawkweed collaboration, and to toss around some other project ideas. They also had me present a seminar on my research, which was broadcast online and available for USGS employees to access all over the country. It seems that staff are engaging with this system as I received two messages from remote researchers about my presentation later that same afternoon.

Over the weekend I had a chance to explore the area a little more. The University of Florida has an impressive Museum of Natural History, which includes a butterfly house and conservation/research program. I was amused to see the research labs themselves set up as exhibits – even on a Saturday there was a (probable) grad student at the microscope demonstrating science in (slow, laborious) action.

The neighbouring Harn Museum of Art was a comparatively spacious and peaceful venue. The current exhibition of Florida swamp and wetland photographs by Karen Glaser really gave me a sense of place.

On Sunday I nervously took to the water myself, by kayak. Mathieu is an experienced watersportsman and led me on a glorious glide along the Sante Fe river, where turtles sun themselves on logs, woodpecking rings out from the forest and the locals drift down the river on inflatable chairs, beer in hand.

We went to Wyperfeld (again)

Field work

Last month José and I ventured back to Wyperfeld National Park to explore monitoring options for the threatened pine-buloke woodlands. Here are a few of my photos taken along the way. Elsewhere, you can read more about…

Thanks to Chris, Dave, Kate, Guru and Simon for playing along.

Pine BulokeFire


Guru streamlines surveillance even further

Guillera-Arroita et al.'s new removal sampling strategy can save costs (darker shading) when the benefits of early detection are high (plots progressing left to right) and the probability of weed occurrence (psi) is high. Savings are relatively insensitive to weed detectability (gamma).
Guillera-Arroita et al.’s new removal sampling strategy can save costs (darker shading) when the benefits of early detection are high (plots progressing left to right) and the probability of weed occurrence (psi) is high. Savings are relatively insensitive to weed detectability (gamma).

I’m a proud co-author of an upcoming manuscript led by Gurutzeta Guillera-Arroita on optimal surveillance for detecting pest species. (Available for preview here; Guru’s already written about it here.)

In a previous paper, Mick McCarthy and I optimised a trade-off between investing in survey effort to find an invasive weed, and the damage it could cause if it remained undetected. We also looked at spreading that effort over a landscape, where dispersal and habitat suitability might alter the probability of weed occurrence, varied terrain might affect detectability and we might be constrained to a surveillance budget. It’s a handy guide for prioritising places for weed surveys and can tell us when it’s good sense to give up on a site and move on, even when we haven’t found anything.

But surveys could stop early when we do find something too, since the find triggers management action. Any extra effort we were willing to use at this site could be deployed to other places. Guru has made this adjustment to the design. While this sounds small, it requires several pages of calculus to straighten out (and the best bits are in the Supporting Information for your enjoyment).

It turns out that we can afford to allocate a little more effort to all sites, since a number of surveys will stop early. This gives us an extra boost of confidence that our non-detections correspond to true absences. This can make for more efficient surveillance in certain circumstances, particularly when the probability of weed occurrence and the benefits of early detection are high (see figure up top).

I’m chuffed that my earlier work served as some inspiration, and was thrilled to collaborate with people who dig Kuhn-Tucker conditions as much as I do. Here’s hoping it proves useful to some survey designers very soon. (Maybe we should give Phil a call.)


Guillera-Arroita G., Hauser C.E. & McCarthy M.A. (in press) Optimal surveillance strategy for invasive species management when surveys stop after detection. Ecology & Evolution.

Recommended Reading | April 2014

Science... for Her!Science… For Her! looks like it’ll put the Cosmo in Cosmos.

Two QAEco teams have submitted videos to the EDG video competition: check out Gurutzeta Guillera-Arroita and José Lahoz-Monfort‘s joint work on modelling detectability, and Pia Lentini‘s urban microbat findings.

Prof-like Substance lets go of his desire to be “the cool professor”. (via Isis the Scientist)

Consider sending some chocolate biscuits alongside your next paper, grant or CV submission.

How to write consistently boring scientific literature. (via @kyliesoanes)

Ps abound at QAEco! Relax, I don’t mean p-values. Liz Martin is tossing up the relative importance of people, place and project for a PhD, while the lab’s Reading Group expand the 4 facilitation Ps for running workshops.

Liz has also posted a handy tute for formatting figures in Word.