Conservation organisations and resource managers regularly use maps of threats to prioritize effort.
Threat maps are spatial representations of the distribution, intensity, or frequency of threats across a land or seascape – for example, maps of the amount of rhino poaching activity, or the distribution of invasive species, or hotspots of where biodiversity is at risk from a particular activity such as land clearing, or the vulnerability of different systems to climate change. However, these maps typically do not account for management actions and their consequences for biodiversity, leading to solutions that focus primarily on threats with little regard for management feasibility or cost. Use of threat maps without considering clear outcome-based management objectives could lead to poor conservation outcomes when efforts are inadvertently focused on infeasible actions that are not the best use of available resources, or on threats that cannot be mitigated.
In response to increasing reliance on threat maps for making conservation decisions, we just published an exciting paper in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, titled “Why do we map threats? Linking threat mapping with actions to make better conservation decisions”. This paper was the result of a rewarding collaboration between a number of early career researchers and established academics from Australian, European and American institutions, and is the first (but hopefully not the last) paper that my twin sister Viv Tulloch and I co-led! In this article, we argue that a decision-theoretic approach that identifies and evaluates threat management options is the logical way of dealing with threats to biodiversity. Using a structured decision-making framework, we show how threat mapping can be incorporated within a transparent and repeatable framework to ensure clear objectives are linked to outcomes for biodiversity. Global conservation funds are becoming more limited, and policy makers and managers are seeking management actions that will be cost-effective, transparent and repeatable. We demonstrate a way forward for incorporating threat management into making cost-effective conservation decisions, by considering the costs and consequences of alternative actions.