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Understanding of the links between coral reef ecosystems, the goods and services they provide to people, and the wellbeing of human societies.


Ecosystem dynamics: past, present and future

Examining the multi-scale dynamics of reefs, from population dynamics to macroevolution


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Advancing the fundamental understanding of the key processes underpinning reef resilience.

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Coral Reef Studies

From 2005 to 2022, the main node of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies was headquartered at James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland (Australia)

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The Value of Mental Models for Effective Conservation Planning


Thursday, 11 February 2010 12.00pm - 1.00pm

ARC Centre of Excellence Conference Room, JCU (DB44) Video-link to Centre for Marine Studies, UQ
Duan Biggs, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies

Duan was born in Namibia but has spent most of his life in South Africa. He started his PhD in July 2007 in the Centre’s Program on Resilience and Socio-Ecological Systems. His PhD is investigating the resilience of nature-based tourism to climate change. His project ties into the Resilience Alliance’s workbook project which aims to translate resilience theory into practical outcomes for managers and policy-makers. Terry Hughes is his primary supervisor. Prior to his PhD he completed an MSc by dissertation in Conservation Biology at the University of Cape Town. His MSc dissertation was on the institutions, economics and conservation benefits of community-based specialist ecotourism in South Africa. He has a trans-disciplinary undergraduate training with majors in Economics, Development Studies and Environmental and Biodiversity Science. Duan relishes working at the interface of science and management and has developed, coordinated and consulted to projects for BirdLife International, Conservational International and WWF among others. He also leads specialist birding and eco-tours to destinations in Africa and the Asia-Pacific.


Conservation planning typically takes place in multi-stakeholder environments comprised of a range of individuals, groups and organisations, each with different objectives, values and beliefs about the way the world works. Mental models theory and research tools can make a valuable contribution towards assisting conservation professionals to address this complexity. Mental models are the internal representations that people use to interpret the world around them and have been used in a wide range of fields including risk analysis, cognitive psychology and organisational learning. Over the past 15 years mental models have been applied increasingly in natural resource management to bring the differences and commonalities between stakeholders out into the open, and to build a shared vision for action. This paper proposes that mental models can strengthen the effectiveness of conservation planning by (1) increasing awareness of stakeholders’ internal and often unquestioned assumptions and beliefs, (2) identifying areas of commonality between stakeholders, (3) building a shared vision for action based on the expanded solution space generated by eliciting, openly questioning and discussing stakeholder mental models, and (4) establish a process of social learning that can underpin collective action.

“The eyes see only what the mind is prepared to comprehend”
William Robertson Davies


Australian Research Council Pandora

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