The Manager’s Dilemma: Which Species to Monitor?

Post provided by Payal Bal and Jonathan Rhodes

The greater bilby (M.Lagotis). ©Save the Bilby Fund

The greater bilby (M.Lagotis). ©Save the Bilby Fund

Imagine you’re the manager of a national park. One that’s rich in endemic biodiversity found nowhere else on the planet. It’s under the influence of multiple human pressures causing irreversible declines in the biodiversity, possibly even leading to the extinction of some of the species. You’re working with a complex system of multiple species and threats, limited knowledge of which threats are causing the biggest declines and limited resources. How do you decide what course of action to take to conserve the biodiversity of the park? This is the dilemma faced by biodiversity managers across the globe.

In our recent paper, ‘Quantifying the value of monitoring species in multi‐species, multi‐threat systems’, we address this problem and propose a method using value of information (VOI) analysis. VOI estimates the benefit of monitoring for management decision-making. Specifically, it’s a valuation tool that can be used to disentangle the trade-offs in competing monitoring actions. It helps managers decide how to invest (or whether to invest) their money in monitoring actions when faced with imminent biodiversity declines and the urgency of efficient conservation action. Continue reading

Issue 6.10

Issue 6.10 is now online!

The October issue of Methods is now online!

This month’s issue contains two Applications articles and one Open Access article, all of which are freely available.

letsR: A package for the R statistical computing environment, designed to handle and analyse macroecological data such as species’ geographic distributions and environmental variables. It also includes functions to obtain data on species’ habitat use, description year and current as well as temporal trends in conservation status.

Cleaning Oil from Seabirds: The authors assess the efficacy of sea water as an alternative to fresh water for cleaning oil from seabirds’ feathers. Results indicate that for oiled feathers, a sea water wash/rinse produced clean, low BAI/unclumped feathers with minimal particulate residue.

Stefano Canessa et al. provide this month’s only Open Access article. In ‘When do we need more data? A primer on calculating the value of information for applied ecologists‘ the authors guide readers through the calculation of Value of Information (VoI) using two case studies and illustrate the use of Bayesian updating to incorporate new information. Collecting information can require significant investments of resources; VoI analysis assists managers in deciding whether these investments are justified. The authors also wrote a blog post on VoI which you can find here.

Our October issue also features articles on Niche Modelling, Population Ecology, Spatial Ecology, Conservation, Monitoring and much more. Continue reading

The Value of Information: Does More Data Mean Better Decisions?

Post provided by Dr Stefano Canessa

Applied ecology can be defined as scientific knowledge that helps in making good management decisions. Scientists have a natural desire to collect information, managers want that information so that they know they are doing the right thing, and both generally act under the assumption that more information equals better decisions. This is generally correct, since information helps us make, well, informed decisions. Therefore, when our ecological knowledge is uncertain (which is practically always the case) we usually advocate further research.

On the other hand, however, information comes at a cost. It may cost money to collect it and take time to set up studies: both are usually in short supply. We can’t learn everything and often the information we can actually collect is still imperfect. So how do we determine if that additional piece of information we’d like to have is really valuable for our management?

In ‘When do we need more data? A primer on calculating the value of information for applied ecologists’ , Stefano Canessa and colleagues provide a tutorial to the calculation of value of information (VOI) for applied ecologists and managers who would like to know more about it, but are not familiar with decision-theoretic principles and notation.

What is ‘Value of Information’?

In decision analysis, the value of information is the improvement in the outcomes of our actions that we would expect if we could reduce or eliminate uncertainty before making a decision. Previously applied in engineering, economics and healthcare planning, VOI is also intuitively appealing for environmental management, where decisions must be made in the face of ubiquitous uncertainty.  Knowing the value of information can assist in designing monitoring and experimental programs, implementing adaptive management and prioritising sources of uncertainty. In other words, it can help applied ecologists and conservation managers find a focused, transparent way to address the inevitable need for “more data”.

An increasing number of studies are applying VOI to conservation management; however, in spite of its potential the technique is still underused in real-world applications, particularly beyond the small community of applied ecologists trained in decision-analytic methods.

Click Image to begin a Prezi Presentation on Value of Information

Click Image to begin a Prezi Presentation on Value of Information

In summary, three things determine the value of information:

  1. How much we already know (the more we know, the less beneficial it is to collect more information)
  2. Whether and how we would react to that extra information by changing actions, and how much better would the updated action be
  3. How good is the information we can actually get (think about sample sizes, imperfect detection, time lags, etc)

Continue reading