After completing his Masters in conservation biology in Rome, Italy, Piero came to Australia to join the Spatial Ecology Lab at the University of Queensland to work on the integration of biodiversity processes in dynamic conservation planning. Since May 2008, Piero has been continuing his research at James Cook University in Townsville as a PhD student under the supervision of Bob Pressey, Natalie Ban and Jeremy VanDerWal. His current research focuses on 3 topics 1) identify the most common assumptions made in conservation planning during priority setting and implementation and understand how these lead to variations in approaches to conservation (e.g. proactive/reactive approaches); 2) investigate in which situations incorporating information on vulnerability produces better conservation decisions in terms of improved species persistence; 3) test a new conservation planning approach that combines local and neighbourhood vulnerability of areas to threats in scheduling conservation actions.
Effectively addressing vulnerability of areas and natural features remains a challenge for conservation planners around the world. Different areas within a region are often assumed to be equally vulnerable to habitat loss, so prioritization proceeds only according to biodiversity benefit and, sometimes, cost. When vulnerability is negatively correlated with biodiversity value and positively correlated with cost this assumption makes conservation investment ineffective, pushing it towards remote areas with low opportunity cost and vulnerability, or de facto already protected. On the other hand, gathering information on vulnerability and its impacts on species distributions can be time consuming, expensive, and involve uncertainty. We investigated in which situations incorporating information on vulnerability produces better conservation decisions in terms of improved species persistence. We varied 5 parameters expected to influence this choice: the spatial variance of vulnerability across the study region; uncertainty about data on vulnerability; the habitat loss rate; the effect of reservation on habitat loss (inhibition or displacement) and the spatial correlation between vulnerability and biodiversity value (positive, random, negative). We provide rules of thumb for conservation planners to make three choices: 1. invest all their money in conservation action using any available information on vulnerability; 2. improve information on vulnerability; or 3. discard information on vulnerability and prioritize solely on biodiversity benefit and cost.