Malleefowl Forum Proceedings now online

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In September 2014, the Malleefowl Adaptive Management team visited Dubbo to participate in the National Malleefowl Forum. Recently the Forum Proceedings have been published online, so you can access information on every presentation and poster contributed.

Our team was given a full session to present all the research driving the Adaptive Management project. In the first paper, I provided an overview of how we are applying adaptive management principles to Malleefowl conservation through a nested set of scientific studies.

Mike Bode followed up with an introduction to the qualitative ecosystem modelling that we’re using to collate data and expert opinion. It helps to prioritise threats to Malleefowl persistence and conservation actions that show promise for addressing those threats.

José Lahoz-Monfort developed an experimental design and power analysis that we can use to monitor one particular threat-action pair drawn from Bode’s options: baiting to reduce fox predation. His approach relies primarily on the monitoring data already being collected nation-wide and stored on a national database.

Finally, our recently graduated Master student Rosanna van Hespen, then just starting out on her degree, discussed the potential for motion-triggered cameras to supplement the existing monitoring data and Lahoz-Monfort’s analysis by observing changes in fox activity.

Our work has progressed substantially in the almost-2 years since we made these presentations and we’re keen to release updates into the peer-reviewed research literature very soon! Get in touch if any facets of this project spark your interest.

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Hauser C.E., Bode M., Rumpff L., Lahoz-Monfort J.J., Benshemesh J., Burnard T., van Hespen R. & Wintle B. (2016) Applying adaptive management principles to Malleefowl conservation. Proceedings of the 5th National Malleefowl Forum pp 210-215.

Bode M., Rumpff L., Benshemesh J., Burnard T., Lahoz-Monfort J., van Hespen R., Hauser C. & Wintle B. (2016) Predicting Malleefowl dynamics using decision theory and qualitative ecosystem modelling. Proceedings of the 5th National Malleefowl Forum pp 223-236.

Lahoz-Monfort J.J. & Hauser C.E. (2016) Analysing the effects of ongoing and historical fox control on Malleefowl population viability. Proceedings of the 5th National Malleefowl Forum pp 216-220.

van Hespen R., Hauser C.E., Lahoz-Monfort J.J. & Rumpff L. (2016) Camera trap analysis of mallee wildlife. Proceedings of the 5th National Malleefowl Forum pp 221-222.

 

Adaptive management of a mainland-island metapopulation

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The Bay Checkerspot butterfly. Image by USFWS, used under Creative Commons License.

Earlier this year, Ecological Applications published one of QAEcologist Darren Southwell‘s PhD thesis chapters as an article. In it, Darren builds a model of a threatened species following mainland-island metapopulation dynamics and investigates the relative merits of adding new habitat patches, extending the area of existing patches and leaving the metapopulation alone.

It’s clear pretty early on that the best approach for population persistence depends on the colonisation rate. If the species colonises new habitat patches well, then creating new patches is worthwhile because we can trust individuals to find their way over and establish a new subpopulation. If the species disperses to new patches rarely, we may be better off expanding existing habitat patches to secure these local populations.

But what if we don’t know the species’ colonisation rate? Darren goes on to build an optimisation that allows for uncertainty in this important parameter. Even better, it factors in the potential learning opportunities that pop up when we monitor colonisation into empty habitat patches.  This is adaptive management in its most quantitative form.

Darren’s use of stochastic dynamic programming and beta-binomial updating make this a great methodological companion piece to Mick McCarthy’s article on adaptive vegetation management, my PhD research on harvest management and Tracy Rout’s Honours research on threatened species translocation. It’s an elegant approach that prevents the range of learning possibilities from spiralling beyond computational bounds. (Nevertheless, the types and sizes of problems that can be addressed are quite limited.) As a co-author, I most enjoyed diving into this technical detail with Darren.

For those less excited about recursive equations, there’s a nice case study based on a Bay Checkerspot butterfly metapopulation.

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Southwell D.M., Hauser C.E. & McCarthy M.A. (2016) Learning about colonization when managing metapopulations under an adaptive management framework. Ecological Applications 26: 279-294. doi: 10.1890/14-2430

Malleefowl workshops, Perth & Mildura

PerthWorkshopMy flight from Tokyo had barely landed before I set off for Perth with the malleefowl adaptive management research team (including Mike Bode, José Lahoz-Monfort, Tim Burnard and Joe Benshemesh). We’re embarking on an ambitious landscape-scale experiment to help understand the role of foxes in malleefowl conservation. While we know that foxes do take malleefowl eggs, juveniles and occasionally even adult birds, is this predation a key threat to malleefowl persistence? And furthermore, is baiting an effective tool for mitigating any impacts that foxes may have on malleefowl?

IMG_8540_cropOur approach is to speak to land managers across Australia who are monitoring malleefowl populations. In Western Australia, they include mining companies, DPaW, an Indigenous Protected Area and NGOs like Bush Heritage Australia and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

We’re finding out who is baiting, who isn’t, and what sites are sufficiently similar to be compared. José’s initial analysis of historical malleefowl data suggests suggests that we’d need at least ten site pairs monitored over at least 5 years to pick up a plausible difference in malleefowl breeding between baited and unbaited locations. This workshop setting allowed us to get to know the specific sites, their management contexts and their malleefowl populations better, working out what kind of monitoring is feasible and potential barriers for inclusion.

MilduraWorkshopA week later we moved on to Mildura (this time with Rosanna van Hespen in tow) to meet land managers spanning New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia and representing OEH NSW, Parks NSW, the Western LLS, Parks Victoria, DEWNR SA, Federation University, the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, the VMRG and private properties. There were many more people and sites to get to know. We also had some important conversations about fox monitoring – how can we develop reliable indicators of fox density, activity or predation? Rosanna’s research project will offer important new insights into the capacity of motion-triggered cameras for detecting differences in fox activity across sites.

IMG_8607_colourArmed with all this new information, we can also refine José’s original power analysis to reflect the unique characteristics of each monitored malleefowl site. We’ll be working on ways to analyse data as they come in over the years, and new modules for the National Malleefowl Database to share what we learn with the malleefowl conservation community. We’re grateful that so many of its members are sharing their knowledge with us and entertaining the possibilities offered by this major collaborative project.

Linking population models to adaptive management

PopnModellingAMFrontiers in Ecology & Evolution has just published a mini-review written by José Lahoz-Monfort, Gurutzeta Guillera-Arroita and I on the role of population models within adaptive management.

Population modelling has been integral to the adaptive management process since its inception, with many of C.J. Walters’ articles from the 1970s centred around fish population growth and harvest. Still, they can drift apart – population modelling can be pursued without the sense of purpose and link to management outcomes demanded by adaptive management, while some shy away from the bold hypotheses and specific predictions that adaptive management needs and population modelling can provide. In our review article, we step through the adaptive management cycle and discuss how population modelling can be used for setting objectives, generating alternative hypotheses, predicting the consequences of management actions, and assessing the value of information.

Frontiers is an open-access academic publisher with a social-networking bent. The peer review process was rapid and a little more interactive than usual, with private conversation threading involving the editor, reviewers and authors. Informal peer review can continue even after publication, with a comment box located below the abstract (registration required) and all the requisite ‘sharing’ buttons – so now it’s your turn to tell us what you think.

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Lahoz-Monfort J.J., Guillera-Arroita G. & Hauser C.E. (2014) From planning to implementation: explaining connections between adaptive management and population models. Frontiers in Ecology & Evolution 2:60. doi:10.3389/fevo.2014.00060

National Malleefowl Forum, Dubbo

MalleefowlWorkshopEarlier this month the 5th National Malleefowl Forum was held in Dubbo, NSW. Mike Bode, Libby Rumpff, Rosanna van Hespen and I were there to represent the QAEco malleefowl research team. In fact, we made the most of this gathering of experts and enthusiasts by holding a small workshop to develop our malleefowl ecosystem models further. Mike has been translating the network structures formed during the project’s first workshop into literally millions of possible models with varying interaction strengths. In this second iteration we sought to refine this set of models with our experts using their knowledge of the mallee ecosystem.

Mike proposed activities that centred around completing worksheets and evaluating graphs, and I must admit I felt skeptical that we’d effectively capture the interest and knowledge of our participants in this way. I was proven completely wrong – look at ’em all working studiously in that top photo! We made time for talking too, of course, but this original exercise ensured that everybody – not just the loudest or most confident participants – made a major contribution. I think the other great feature of Mike’s approach was that it first invited participants to reject any proposed models that looked implausible, rather than requesting that they compose relationships from scratch. No-one was stuck staring at a blank page, and the rejection exercise built up some familiarity with the kind of model outputs we are interested in. Our experts were in precisely the right frame of mind to create their own graphs and identify any gaps in our work during the afternoon group sessions.

MalleefowlForumThe Forum proper attracted over one hundred attendees from right across the country. Malleefowl are monitored nationally by volunteers, government agencies, mining companies, land holders, researchers and private consultants so the Forum is an important venue for communication across contexts. It’s a place to learn about malleefowl population trends across the country as well as conservation activities (such as captive breeding and feral animal control), technological developments (including LiDAR to detect mallefowl mounds and motion-sensing camera monitoring), Indigeneous knowledge and collaboration, and research findings (Taneal Cope’s genetic research and Jemima Connell’s fire modelling were highlights).

IMG_4251_colourcropNational co-ordinator Tim Burnard and malleefowl ecologist Joe Benshemesh cheekily summed up the Forum with a horrendogram that might have been inspired by our research team’s complicated ecosystem models. It did serve to highlight the diversity of skills, tools and institutions involved in malleefowl conservation across Australia – the Forum committee did well to capture them all into the same room at the same time.

IMG_4290_cropFlying from Dubbo to Melbourne involves a stopover in Sydney, and I snuck in a couple of hours at the Art Gallery of New South Wales on my way home. Here I was delighted to discover Mallee in halflight by Pablo Byass among the finalists for the 2014 Wynne Prize. The artist wrote that he eventually developed a fondness for the mallee through his mother. I have to credit an entire community of committed and knowledgeable mallee and malleefowl enthusiasts for sharing this landscape with me.

NCTC, Shepherdstown WV

IMG_1914_colourMy third travel week was spent at the National Conservation Training Center, the hub of professional development for the US Fish & Wildlife Service. Everything about the forested campus has been designed with sustainability in mind, and they’ve created an utterly immersive environment where you can lodge, eat, meet and think without distraction.

NCTCcampusI attended their Structured Decision Making Workshop, one of an impressive suite of Decision Analysis programs offered regularly at the Center. This involves developing rapid decision-analytic prototypes for solving a real environmental management problem over five days. With Fred Johnson and Christina Romagosa, I co-coached a team of managers and researchers concerned with the spread of Burmese pythons through Florida’s Everglades (and eventually) to Loxahatchee refuge.

PythonTeamThis is a role that demands constant thought and adaption – is everyone getting a say? have we really drilled down to the fundamental objective? what kind of model would best characterise this management problem? what activity can we next set the group to obtain the information we need? Luckily for us coaches, our team committed to the process, hatched some great ideas and made important contributions to our framing of the python invasion problem. Completing a full decision analysis will require extensive data collation, some thoughtful optimisations and simulations, and regular reality checks from our team of experts; Fred, Christina, Mathieu Bonneau and I are likely to stay on hand to see this project through.

IMG_1916_cropOn our last afternoon meeting as a group, team co-ordinator Rebekah Gibble presented each team member with a challenge coin as a token of appreciation from the Loxahatchee refuge staff. It’s a lovely keepsake that I’ll pin somewhere prominent in my office, and perhaps take out on occasion if I’m seeking a free drink.

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.