Environmental modelling symposium, University of Tokyo

UniTokyo campus
The Agriculture building at the University of Tokyo.

On the Easter weekend, I had the unexpected privilege of travelling to Japan to participate in a symposium at the University of Tokyo. Titled “Biological Conservation Planning under Uncertainties”, the symposium hosted Prof Mark Burgman as the guest of honour and the invitation extended to Anca Hanea and I.

Symposium1
Marks Burgman’s presentation (left), and fielding a question from Hiroyuki Matsuda (right).

Mark’s plenary presentation recounted a Sindh ibex conservation program that he was involved in a decade ago, and the role of uncertainty when estimating population viability. His approach highlighted the importance of casting the uncertainty in terms of the management objective, but ultimately revealed the human psychological biases that can interfere with quality modelling, prediction and decision-making. Anca went on to describe recent advances in the mathematics surrounding expert elicitation, such as aggregating and weighting various experts’ answers to the same question.

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Hiroyuki Yokomizo (left) and I (right, photo courtesy of Mika Yasuda) present our research.

One of the day’s personal highlights was reconnecting with quantitative ecologist Hiroyuki Yokomizo. His optimal monitoring publications were very important to my PhD studies and though we have only met in person a couple of times, we have kept in contact over the years. At the symposium he spoke about optimal allocation of hunting effort to control sika deer browsing damage in the Chiba prefecture and I was struck by the similarities with my ongoing research regarding grazing pressure at Wyperfeld National Park. Hiroyuki’s population models and robust design approaches will again be helpful as I frame and solve my problem. Researcher Joung Hun Lee’s grazing models describing herder movement in a Mongolian rangeland were similarly inspiring, and I keenly scribbled down equations and exemplar graphs as she spoke.

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There were many interesting questions from the audience.

Other presentations were more distant from my own research but no less interesting, addressing the very political Kuril harbor seal management, prioritising conservation of vascular plants and butterflies across Japan, and evaluating the effect of international trade on extinction risks. Many presentations highlighted the trade-offs between biodiversity and business objectives, and our need to elicit and articulate them well. I enjoyed the variety of quantitative approaches for addressing uncertainty. All participants kindly conducted their interactions in English, and the time spent in discussion was occasionally challenging and often enlightening.

I’m very grateful to Tadashi Miyashita, Hiroyuki Matsuda, Shota Nishijima and Mika Yasuda for their hospitality. It was wonderful to encounter people and projects outside of my usual research network, and to have an excuse to holiday in Japan during its gorgeous cherry blossom season.

Shinjuku Gyoen.
Shinjuku Gyoen.
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