Projects: Conservation Planning Group

Where we work

The map below locates our projects across Australia and in the Asia-Pacific region.


This world map shows where we are from and the locations of our past and current projects.


Theme 1
Planning for a changing world

Our environment is undergoing many changes, including climate change and shifting human uses of the land and sea. Conservation planning has to take these dynamics into account. Conservation planning methods have become effective at designing protected areas for snapshots of biodiversity pattern such as maps of habitats and species records, but are less successful at accounting for changing environments and human uses. Some important challenges remain in planning to promote the persistence of a wide variety of processes, including population dynamics, dispersal, regular migrations, patch dynamics of resources and disturbance, adjustment of distributions to climate change, and ongoing diversification of lineages. Conservation planning must also deal better with cumulative threats to biodiversity and ecosystem services, achieved by coupling conservation planning with spatially explicit predictions of human threats such as land conversion and industrial fishing. This theme addresses both natural and anthropogenic dynamics and their interactions, including:

  • Planning for biodiversity processes
  • Conservation planning for climate change
  • Conservation planning for a changing coastal zone (along the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area)
  • Predicting changes in the distribution and intensity of threats
  • Assessing cumulative impacts within and between development projects
  • Devising effective planning responses to dynamic threats

People involved in Theme 1:

  • Glenn Almany
  • Amélie Augé
  • Natalie Ban
  • Tom Brewer
  • Anderson Cassio Sevilha
  • Mariana Fuentes
  • Alana Grech
  • Rafael Magris
  • Mirjam Maughan
  • Laurence McCook
  • Rocío Ponce-Reyes
  • Piero Visconti

Selected references:

  • Ban, N.C., Pressey, R.L., Weeks, S., 2012. Conservation objectives and sea-surface temperature anomalies in the Great Barrier Reef. Conservation Biology 26, 799-809
  • Brewer, T.D., Cinner, J.E., Fisher, R., Green, A., Wilson, S. 2012. Market access, population density, and socioeconomic development explain diversity and functional group biomass of coral reef fish assemblages. Global Environmental Change 22, 399-406
  • Fuentes M., Fish M., Maynard J. 2012. Management strategies to mitigate the impacts of climate change on sea turtle’s terrestrial reproductive phase. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, 17 (1) 51-63
  • Fuentes M., Limpus C.J., Hamann M. 2011. Vulnerability of sea turtle nesting grounds to climate change. Global Change Biology 17, 140-153
  • Ponce-Reyes, R., Reynoso-Rosales, V.-H., Watson, J.E.M., VanDerWal, J., Fuller, R.A., Pressey, R.L. & Possingham, H.P. 2012. Vulnerability of cloud forest reserves in Mexico to climate change. Nature Climate Change 2, 448-452
  • Pressey, R.L., Cabeza, M., Watts, M.E., Cowling, R.M., Wilson, K.A., 2007. Conservation planning in a changing world. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 22, 583-592
  • Visconti, P., Pressey, R.L., Giorgini, D., Maiorano, L., Bakkenes, M., Boitani, L., Alkemade, R., Falcucci, A., Chiozza, F., Rondinini, C. 2011. Future hotspots of terrestrial mammal loss. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 366:2693-2702
  • Visconti, P., Pressey, R.L., Segan, D.B., Wintle, B.A., 2010. Conservation planning with dynamic threats: the role of spatial design and priority setting for species’ persistence. Biological Conservation 143, 756-767


Theme 2
Integrated land-sea planning

Spatial management, including setting aside conservation areas, is central to curbing the global decline of biodiversity, but many threats originate from beyond the boundaries of conservation areas. This is a particular problem for marine and freshwater ecosystems, which are influenced by many activities on land. In addition, connections between land and sea support many species and ecological processes valued for conservation. Integrated land-sea planning incorporates ecological connections between land and sea and seeks to limit the downstream impacts of cross-system threats. There is still little guidance on how to manage resources and prioritise conservation actions with a whole-of-catchment approach. Managers of coastal catchments therefore face enormous challenges in allocating limited conservation resources to balance the achievement of objectives for terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems. This theme includes research projects that aim to inform conservation, land use planning, and natural resource management in Australia (Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia) in the NERP Northern Australia Project 1.1, the Gulf of California (Mexico), and the Asia-Pacific region. Specific research objectives include:

  • Developing an operational model for integrated land-sea planning
  • Guiding catchment managers in reconciling multiple objectives
  • Refining spatially explicit catchment models
  • Modelling the effects of river plumes on marine ecosystems

People involved in Theme 2:

  • Vanessa Adams
  • Jorge Álvarez-Romero
  • Amélie Augé
  • Natalie Ban
  • Debora De Freitas
  • Stephanie Januchowski-Hartley

Selected references:

  • Álvarez-Romero, J.G., Pressey, R.L., Ban, N.C., Vance-Borland, K., Willer, C., Klein, C.J., Gaines, S.D., 2011. Integrated land-sea planning: the missing links. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 42, 381-409
  • Beger, M., Grantham, H.S., Pressey, R.L., Wilson, K.A., Peterson, E.L., Dorfman, D., Mumby, P.J., Lourival, R., Brumbaugh, D.R., Possingham, H.P., 2010. Conservation planning for connectivity across marine, freshwater, and terrestrial realms. Biological Conservation 143, 565-575
  • Klein, C.J., Ban, N.C., Halpern, B.S., Beger, M., Game, E.T., Grantham, H.S., Green, A., Klein, T.J., Kininmonth, S., Treml, E., et al. 2010. Prioritizing land and sea conservation investments to protect coral reefs. PLoS ONE 5:e12431


Theme 3
The value of information

Systematic conservation planning makes intensive use of spatial and non-spatial data, yet all data are incomplete and, to some extent, inaccurate. So planners should, as far as possible, understand and account for the limitations of their data in making decisions about conservation investments. In particular, conservation planning is always based on surrogates for attributes of concern. So, for example, maps of marine habitats or terrestrial vegetation types are commonly used as surrogates for the many species that are poorly recorded or undescribed. This assumes that these surrogates reflect the variables underlying the distributions of species and that they are relatively homogeneous with respect to species composition. Similarly, spatial surrogates are commonly used in planning to approximate variables such as opportunity costs of conservation actions and social characteristics that reflect ease of implementing conservation actions. Testing of biodiversity surrogates has been extensive, but generalizations are limited by differences in methods, scales, types of surrogates, and the groups of species used to estimate effectiveness. Testing of surrogates for costs and social variables related to conservation has been very limited. Our research on this theme includes:

  • Rigorous testing of surrogates for biodiversity
  • Testing surrogates for opportunity costs and social characteristics relevant to conservation
  • Finding the balance between investment in additional information to guide planning and investment in conservation actions
  • Explicit incorporation of uncertainty into conservation through probability bounds and sensitivity analysis

People involved in Theme 3:

  • Jana Brotankova
  • Steve Hall
  • Mélanie Hamel
  • Amelia Wenger

Selected references:

  • Adams, V.M., Pressey, R.L., Naidoo, R., 2010. Opportunity costs: who really pays for conservation? Biological Conservation 143, 439-448
  • Albernaz, A.L., Pressey, R.L., Costa, L.R.F., Moreira, M.P., Ramos, J.F., Assunção, P.A., Franciscon, C.H., 2012. Tree species compositional change and conservation implications in the white-water flooded forests of the Brazilian Amazon. Journal of Biogeography 39, 869-883
  • Grantham, H.S., Pressey, R.L., Wells, J.A., Beattie, A.J., 2010. Effectiveness of biodiversity surrogates for conservation planning: different measures of effectiveness generate a kaleidoscope of variation. PLoS ONE 5(7), e11430
  • Pressey, R.L., 2004. Conservation planning and biodiversity: assembling the best data for the job. Conservation Biology 18, 1677-1681
  • Visconti, P., Pressey, R. L., Bode, M., Segan, D. B. 2010. Habitat vulnerability in conservation planning—when it matters and how much. Conservation Letters 3:404-414


Theme 4
People and conservation

Socioeconomic factors are key determinants of conservation success. Conservation is inherently a social endeavour that requires modification of human behaviour by understanding and engaging with people’s relationships with nature. Projects in this theme aim to better understand and incorporate socioeconomic considerations into several stages of the planning process, including stages dealing with spatial and non-spatial aspects of design and implementation. We adopt a multi-disciplinary approach, drawing from economics, political science, sociology and anthropology. Our projects are in diverse socioeconomic and biophysical contexts, including Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Costa Rica. In these areas, we are working closely with natural resource managers to ensure that our research is appropriate and will inform real-world decisions. The challenges we address include:

  • Incorporating livelihood considerations into spatial prioritisation
  • Using social network analysis to inform conservation planning
  • Examining the role of multi-scale drivers of stakeholder compliance and participation in fisheries management
  • The social variables associated with conservation opportunity
  • Identifying the social impacts of marine protected areas
  • Understanding the spatial and temporal distribution of management and establishment costs for protected areas
  • Improving engagement with stakeholders and policy makers

People involved in Theme 4:

  • Vanessa Adams
  • Glenn Almany
  • Jorge Álvarez-Romero
  • Adrian Arias
  • Melissa Bos
  • Tom Brewer
  • Ian Craigie
  • Georgina Gurney
  • Mélanie Hamel
  • Christina Hicks
  • Vera Horigue
  • Morena Mills

Selected references:

  • Adams, V.M., Segan, D.B., Pressey, R.L., 2011. How much does it cost to expand a protected area system? Some critical determining factors and ranges of costs for Queensland. PLoS ONE 6(9), e25447
  • Ban N.C., Mills M., Hicks C., Tam J., Klain S., Stoeckl N., Levine J., Pressey R.L., Satterfield T., Chan K.M.A. 2012. Integrating social considerations into conservation planning. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, In press
  • Ban, N.C., Adams, V., Pressey, R.L., Hicks, J., 2011. Promise and problems for estimating management costs of marine protected areas. Conservation Letters 4, 241-252
  • Brewer, T.D. 2012. Dominant discourses, among fishers and middlemen, of the factors affecting coral reef fish stocks in Solomon Islands. Marine Policy, In Press
  • Fuentes M., Cinner, J.E. 2010. Using expert opinion to prioritize impacts of climate change on sea turtles’ nesting grounds. Journal of Environmental Management, 91, 2511-2518


Theme 5
Decision-support systems

Systematic conservation planning must deal with trade-offs between multiple stakeholder groups by balancing social, economic, and biodiversity objectives in both time and space. Sometimes the only way to achieve this balance is through the use of computerized tools that enable stakeholders to explore first-hand the options for conservation management. About two decades of developing software for conservation planning has led to some innovative decision-support systems that have been used widely by scientists and practitioners. The first interactive conservation planning tool, C-Plan, was developed by Bob Pressey and Matthew Watts during the late 1990s. We also use Marxan, Bayesian belief and decision network tools such as Netica, Genie and Samiam, and scenario tools such as RobOff and Stella. Even with the tools available today, some remaining needs are for intuitive visualisation and interactivity, mapping of spatial options for achieving diverse conservation objectives, flexible consideration of connectivity, accounting for interactions between management actions, and incorporation of spatially and temporally variable conservation costs. This theme is developing new software systems, in collaboration with conservation practitioners, including:

C-Plan conservation planning software

C-Plan was developed by Matthew Watts and Bob Pressey in the mid-1990s. It was the first interactive decision-support tool for conservation planning, designed initially for extensive real-world negotiations over public forests in New South Wales. C-Plan has since been used in many other applications around the world (see references below) for terrestrial, freshwater and marine planning. The software has analytical and interactive functionality that has still not been replicated in other systems. In 2004, Matthew adapted C-Plan to work interactively with Marxan, taking advantage of the complementary strengths and limitations of both systems. Today, C-Plan’s main value is its ability to add unique interactive functionality and a graphic user interface to Marxan. Several planning projects have been completed and are underway using C-Plan and Marxan in tandem. Free download of C-Plan, background information on the software, and examples of applications can be obtained at this link: Further enquiries about C-Plan should be directed to Matthew Watts ( or Bob Pressey.

People involved in Theme 5:

  • Stephen Ban
  • Jana Brotankova
  • Mariana Fuentes
  • Johnathan Kool
  • Piero Visconti
  • Amelia Wenger

Selected references:

  • Álvarez-Romero, J.G., Pressey, R.L., Ban, N.C., Vance-Borland, K., Willer, C., Klein, C.J., Gaines, S.D., 2011. Integrated land-sea planning: the missing links. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 42, 381-409.
  • Pressey, R.L., 1998. Algorithms, politics and timber: an example of the role of science in a public, political negotiation process over new conservation areas in production forests, In Ecology for everyone: communicating ecology to scientists, the public and the politicians. eds R. Wills, R. Hobbs, pp. 73-87. Surrey Beatty and Sons, Sydney.
  • Pressey, R.L., Bottrill, M.C., 2009. Approaches to landscape- and seascape-scale conservation planning: convergence, contrasts and challenges. Oryx 43, 464-475
  • Pressey, R.L., Watts, M.E., Barrett, T.W., Ridges, M.J., 2009. The C-Plan conservation planning system: origins, applications, and possible futures, In Spatial conservation prioritization: quantitative methods and computational tools. eds A. Moilanen, K.A. Wilson, H.P. Possingham, pp. 211-234. Oxford University Press, Oxford.


Theme 6
Linking plans to effective actions

Both regional designs and local actions are crucial to achieving conservation goals, and have complementary strengths and limitations. Regional designs allow planners to construct systems of areas that are more than the sums of their parts, but these have a poor record of translation into local actions. Local actions are motivated, understood, informed and supported by the communities most directly affected by the associated constraints on use of natural resources, but local actions tend to form collections, rather than integrated systems. Ensuring that regional conservation plans and local actions effectively inform one another requires reconciliation of two spatial scales of analysis and even two worldviews. Regional designs must be progressively updated as new information comes to light and as applied actions depart spatially from the places intended. Local actions must be coordinated, according to some larger design, so that they are complementary and functionally connected. To ensure that the best laid plans do not go to waste, an implementation strategy is required to guide the process of moving iteratively between regional designs and local actions. This requires a new set of questions and solutions than those tackled in most exercises on conservation prioritization. Projects in this theme are exploring:

  • Approaches to engaging with agencies, NGOs, statutory authorities and community groups
  • The conceptual, operational, institutional and policy requirements for linking regional designs and local actions
  • A detailed, generic strategy for conservation implementation, with adaptation to diverse case-study areas
  • Guidelines on the process of conservation planning to assist and facilitate implementation

People involved in Theme 6:

  • Glenn Almany
  • Georgina Gurney
  • Vera Horigue
  • Laurence McCook
  • Morena Mills
  • Rebecca Weeks

Selected references:

  • Hastings  J, Thomas S, Burgener V, Gjerde K, Laffoley D, Salm R, McCook L, Pet-Soede L, Eichbaum B, Drijver C, Bottema M, Hemley G, Tanzer J, Roberts C, Govan H, Fox H. In press. Safeguarding the blue planet: Six strategies for accelerating ocean protection. Parks Magazine
  • Horigue, V., Aliño, P.M., White, A.T., Pressey, R.L., 2012. Marine protected area networks in the Philippines: trends and challenges for establishment and governance. Ocean & Coastal Management 64, 15-26
  • Mills, M., Adams, V., Ban, N., Jupiter and Pressey, R.L. Where do regional and local conservation actions meet? Modeling the differences between local implementation and regional conservation planning in Fiji. Conservation Letters
  • Mills, M., Pressey, R.L., Weeks, R., Foale, S., Ban, N.C., 2010. A mismatch of scales: challenges in planning for implementation of marine protected areas in the Coral Triangle. Conservation Letters 3, 291-303
  • Weeks, R., Russ, G.R., Bucol, A.A., Alcala, A.C., 2010. Incorporating local tenure in the systematic design of marine protected area networks. Conservation Letters 3, 445-453


Theme 7
Measuring conservation outcomes

Conservation must learn from successes and failures to adapt to real-world challenges. This theme focuses on monitoring and evaluating the outcomes of conservation planning and on-ground actions to contribute to adaptive learning processes. Some of our research is global in extent, but we also cover large regions and jurisdictions, groups of conservation areas, and even single areas. Part of this theme concerns gap analysis – the extent to which objectives for representing biodiversity pattern and process have been achieved in existing conservation areas – but we extend gap analysis to reveal and understand the biases in location of conservation areas. We also focus on goals, and ways of measuring progress toward goals, for protected areas. Current measures of progress in establishing protected areas typically focus on areas or percentages covered. These measures are not meaningful indicators of true conservation outcomes such as the trend and condition of species and ecosystems. We work collaboratively with practitioners to estimate the impacts of protected area placement and management on conservation outcomes. We are also interested in the effectiveness of conservation planning in achieving outcomes on the ground and in the water. Toward all these goals, our research projects cover:

  • The achievement of objectives for the persistence of biodiversity processes
  • Understanding the distribution of protected areas in relation to potential for commercial and subsistence uses of the land and sea
  • Ways of estimating the effectiveness of management in conservation areas
  • New ways of measuring conservation outcomes
  • The effectiveness of conservation planning in achieving outcomes for biodiversity and people.

People involved in Theme 7:

  • Adrian Arias
  • Madeleine Bottrill
  • Ian Craigie
  • Rodolphe Devillers
  • Rafael Magris
  • Laurence McCook

Selected references:

  • Bottrill, M.C., Mills, M., Pressey, R.L., Game, E.T., Groves, C., 2012. Evaluating perceived benefits of ecoregional assessments. Conservation Biology 26, 851-861
  • Craigie, I.D., Baillie, J.E.M., Balmford, A., Carbone, C., Collen, B., Green, R.E., Hutton, J.M. 2010. Large mammal population declines in Africa’s protected areas. Biological Conservation 143, 2221-2228
  • McCook, L.J., Ayling, T., Cappo, M., Choat, J.H., Evans, R.D., de Freitas, D.M., Heupel, M., Hughes, T.P., Jones, G.P., Mapstone, B., Marsh, H., Mills, M., Molloy, F.J., Pitcher, C.R., Pressey, R.L., Russ, G.R., Sutton, S., Sweatman, H., Tobin, R., Wachenfeld, D.R., Williamson, D.H., 2010. Adaptive management of the Great Barrier Reef: a globally significant demonstration of the benefits of networks of marine reserves. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 107, pp. 18278
  • Pressey, R.L., Hager, T.C., Ryan, K.M., Schwarz, J., Wall, S., Ferrier, S., Creaser, P.M., 2000. Using abiotic data for conservation assessments over extensive regions: quantitative methods applied across New South Wales, Australia. Biological Conservation 96, 55-82


Cross-theme research in the Coral Triangle

The Coral Triangle is formally recognized as containing the marine ecoregions with 500 or more species of reef-building corals. The region is home to 76% of the world’s known coral species and very large numbers of marine species in other taxonomic groups. The Coral Triangle is also home to about 120 million people, of whom more than 2 million are fishers dependent on healthy seas to make a living. The marine resources and biodiversity of the Coral Triangle are in decline, making this region a global priority for conservation action. The boundaries of the Coral Triangle are sometimes broadened to include all the marine waters of the six countries occurring partly or wholly within the “inner” triangle: Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. The boundaries have been further broadened, for example by the Asian Development Bank, to include Vanuatu and Fiji. Program 6 members have research projects in several Coral Triangle nations.


Phillipines: Rebecca Weeks, Vera Horigue and Natalie Ban. Rebecca and Natalie have explored approaches to designing marine reserve networks, focusing on ways of applying conservation planning concepts in a data-limited, developing country. Rebecca’s postdoc is developing a provincial marine management plan for Siquijor. Vera’s PhD is investigating the benefits and factors that affect coordinated planning and management of MPA networks.



Indonesia: Georgina Gurney and Bob Pressey. Georgina’s PhD research in North Sulawesi and Bali aims to understand the social impacts of marine protected areas, and the role of multi-scale factors in influencing stakeholders’ participation in collective marine management. Bob is working in Jakarta with the Coral Triangle Initiative Interim Regional Secretariat to develop approaches to marine spatial planning within the Seascapes Working Group.



Papua New Guinea: Mélanie Hamel and Glenn Almany. Mélanie’s research is focused on mapping coral reef habitats in the Madang lagoon and understanding the informativeness of habitats as surrogates for both biodiversity and opportunity costs to local fishers. Glenn has long-term research projects in the Bismarck Sea, including Kimbe Bay and Manus, on larval connectivity of coral reef fish and implications for design of marine protected areas.



Solomon Islands: Tom Brewer, Johnathan Kool and Morena Mills. Tom’s PhD focused on the social drivers of coral reef resource decline, highlighting the role of markets as a key driver of exploitation. Morena examined how systematic conservation planning can use information on opportunities for community-based management to improve the success of implemented management actions. Johnathan conducted a national terrestrial and marine gap analysis that identified indicative priority areas for conservation.


Fiji: Morena Mills, Vanessa Adams and Georgina Gurney. Program 6 has been collaborating with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Fiji Marine Program. WCS has an ongoing relationship with the district of Kubulau on the island of Vanua Levu, Fiji. Projects include modeling the opportunity costs to local fishers of marine protected areas finding out how locally based marine protected areas can help meet national level protection commitments.

Comments are closed.