Piero completed an honours and a Master degree in conservation biology at University La Sapienza, Rome. He came to Australia in 2007 to undertake a project at the University of Queensland in dynamic conservation planning with Professor Bob Pressey who is now his primary supervisor at JCU. His past research is on the value of different connectivity metrics in conservation planning. Piero’s PhD project addresses some of the many unresolved issues of doing conservation planning in dynamic systems. Among them: setting conservation priorities under dynamic anthropogenic threats, incorporating biodiversity processes in dynamic conservation planning and dealing with uncertain data on species and threats distribution.
Conservation actions typically have to be scheduled because of limited resources and ongoing biodiversity loss. Planners therefore need to predict the dynamics of threats and their effects on species to schedule conservation actions that minimize the loss of biodiversity during the protracted process of implementation. The interdependence of habitat patches for the persistence of populations suggests that conservation priorities should be based on threats to both focal patches and their neighbours, the loss of which would compromise the achievement of conservation objectives in focal patches.
To test this need, we designed alternative area selection strategies to maximize the persistence of 2 species of gliders and the sooty owl Tyto tenebricosa that differed in the way they incorporated anthropogenic threats and measured the extent to which they retain species suitability within the landscape. We projected a model of habitat loss based on suitability to agriculture and urban expansion and modelled species distributions after each annual increment of habitat loss.
We used two different species distribution models: “pattern” with local covariates only; and “process” with local and connectivity covariates. Strategy performance was measured as the total suitability score of the model projection after 20 years of incremental conservation action and habitat loss. The strategy that combined threats and biodiversity process outperformed the others. However while targeting areas vulnerable to habitat conversion minimize habitat loss it increases habitat fragmentation because of the spatial autocorrelation of vulnerability to development.
This demonstrates the importance of considering spatial and temporal patterns in threat when planning for the conservation of species in complex landscapes. We suggest a way to address this interaction between design criteria and retention of biodiversity value by including vulnerability of both focal patches and their neighbours in selecting area for conservation.