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    Assessing the sensitivity of biodiversity indices used to inform fire management
    Giljohann, KM ; Kelly, LT ; Connell, J ; Clarke, MF ; Clarke, RH ; Regan, TJ ; McCarthy, MA ; Blanchard, J (WILEY, 2018-03-01)
    Biodiversity indices are widely used to summarize changes in the distribution and abundance of multiple species and measure progress towards management targets. However, the sensitivity of biodiversity indices to the data, landscape classification and conservation values underpinning them are rarely interrogated. There are limited studies to help scientists and land managers use biodiversity indices in the presence of fire and vegetation succession. The geometric mean of species' relative abundance or occurrence (G) is a biodiversity index that can be used to determine the mix of post‐fire vegetation that maximizes biodiversity. We explored the sensitivity of G to (1) type of biodiversity data, (2) representation of ecosystem states, (3) expression of conservation values, and (4) uncertainty in species' response to landscape structure. Our case study is an area of fire‐prone woodland in southern Australia where G is used in fire management planning. We analysed three datasets to determine the fire responses of 170 bird, mammal and reptile species. G and fire management targets were sensitive to the species included in the analysis. The optimal mix of vegetation successional states for threatened birds was more narrowly defined than the optimal mix for all species combined. G was less sensitive to successional classification (i.e. number of states); although classifications of increasing complexity provided additional insights into desirable levels of heterogeneity. Weighting species by conservation status or endemism influenced the mix of vegetation states that maximized biodiversity. When a higher value was placed on threatened species the importance of late successional vegetation was emphasized. Representing variation in individual species' response to vegetation structure made it clearer when a decrease in G was likely to reflect a significant reduction in species occurrences. Synthesis and applications. Data, models and conservation values can be combined using biodiversity indices to make robust environmental decisions. Combining different types of biodiversity data using composite indices, such as the geometric mean, can improve the coverage and relevance of biodiversity indices. We recommend that evaluation of biodiversity indices for fire management verify how index assumptions align with management objectives, consider the relative merits of different types of biodiversity data, test sensitivity of ecosystem state definitions and incorporate conservation values through species weightings.
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    Putting pyrodiversity to work for animal conservation
    Kelly, LT ; Brotons, L ; McCarthy, MA (WILEY, 2017-08-01)
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    Incorporating Uncertainty of Management Costs in Sensitivity Analyses of Matrix Population Models
    Salomon, Y ; McCarthy, MA ; Taylor, P ; Wintle, BA (WILEY, 2013-02-01)
    The importance of accounting for economic costs when making environmental-management decisions subject to resource constraints has been increasingly recognized in recent years. In contrast, uncertainty associated with such costs has often been ignored. We developed a method, on the basis of economic theory, that accounts for the uncertainty in population-management decisions. We considered the case where, rather than taking fixed values, model parameters are random variables that represent the situation when parameters are not precisely known. Hence, the outcome is not precisely known either. Instead of maximizing the expected outcome, we maximized the probability of obtaining an outcome above a threshold of acceptability. We derived explicit analytical expressions for the optimal allocation and its associated probability, as a function of the threshold of acceptability, where the model parameters were distributed according to normal and uniform distributions. To illustrate our approach we revisited a previous study that incorporated cost-efficiency analyses in management decisions that were based on perturbation analyses of matrix population models. Incorporating derivations from this study into our framework, we extended the model to address potential uncertainties. We then applied these results to 2 case studies: management of a Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) population and conservation of an olive ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) population. For low aspirations, that is, when the threshold of acceptability is relatively low, the optimal strategy was obtained by diversifying the allocation of funds. Conversely, for high aspirations, the budget was directed toward management actions with the highest potential effect on the population. The exact optimal allocation was sensitive to the choice of uncertainty model. Our results highlight the importance of accounting for uncertainty when making decisions and suggest that more effort should be placed on understanding the distributional characteristics of such uncertainty. Our approach provides a tool to improve decision making.
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    Optimal fire histories for biodiversity conservation
    Kelly, LT ; Bennett, AF ; Clarke, MF ; McCarthy, MA (WILEY, 2015-04-01)
    Fire is used as a management tool for biodiversity conservation worldwide. A common objective is to avoid population extinctions due to inappropriate fire regimes. However, in many ecosystems, it is unclear what mix of fire histories will achieve this goal. We determined the optimal fire history of a given area for biological conservation with a method that links tools from 3 fields of research: species distribution modeling, composite indices of biodiversity, and decision science. We based our case study on extensive field surveys of birds, reptiles, and mammals in fire-prone semi-arid Australia. First, we developed statistical models of species' responses to fire history. Second, we determined the optimal allocation of successional states in a given area, based on the geometric mean of species relative abundance. Finally, we showed how conservation targets based on this index can be incorporated into a decision-making framework for fire management. Pyrodiversity per se did not necessarily promote vertebrate biodiversity. Maximizing pyrodiversity by having an even allocation of successional states did not maximize the geometric mean abundance of bird species. Older vegetation was disproportionately important for the conservation of birds, reptiles, and small mammals. Because our method defines fire management objectives based on the habitat requirements of multiple species in the community, it could be used widely to maximize biodiversity in fire-prone ecosystems.
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    A systematic review reveals changes in where and how we have studied habitat loss and fragmentation over 20 years
    Fardila, D ; Kelly, LT ; Moore, JL ; McCarthy, MA (ELSEVIER SCI LTD, 2017-08-01)
    Habitat loss and fragmentation are global threats to biodiversity and major research topics in ecology and conservation biology. We conducted a systematic review to assess where – the geographic locations and habitat types - and how – the study designs, conceptual underpinnings, landscape metrics and biodiversity measures - scientists have studied fragmentation over the last two decades. We sampled papers from 1994 to 2016 and used regression modelling to explore changes in fragmentation research over time. Habitat loss and fragmentation studies are geographically and taxonomically biased. Almost 85% of studies were conducted in America and Europe, with temperate forests and birds the most studied groups. Most studies use a binary conceptual model of landscapes (habitat versus non-habitat) and static measures of biodiversity. However, research on fragmentation is slowly shifting from a focus on coarse patterns to more nuanced representations of biodiversity and landscapes that better represent ecological processes. For example, empirical research based on gradient or continuum models, that offer new insights into landscape complexity and species-specific responses to habitat fragmentation, are increasing in prevalence. We recommend that fragmentation research focuses on developing knowledge on underlying mechanisms and processes of how species respond to landscape changes, and that fragmentation studies be conducted in the full range of habitats currently experiencing high rates of landscape modification. This is crucial if we are to understand relationships between biodiversity and ecosystems and to develop effective management strategies in fragmented landscapes.
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    Interactions between rainfall, fire and herbivory drive resprouter vital rates in a semi-arid ecosystem
    Giljohann, KM ; McCarthy, MA ; Keith, DA ; Kelly, LT ; Tozer, MG ; Regan, TJ ; Salguero-Gómez, R (WILEY, 2017-11-01)
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    European newts establish in Australia, marking the arrival of a new amphibian order
    Tingley, R ; Weeks, AR ; Weeks, AR ; Smart, AS ; van Rooyen, AR ; Woolnough, AP ; McCarthy, MA (Springe, 2015)
    We document the successful establishment of a European newt (Lissotriton vulgaris) in south-eastern Australia, the first recorded case of a caudate species establishing beyond its native geographic range in the southern hemisphere. Field surveys in south-eastern Australia detected L. vulgaris at six sites, including four sites where the species had been detected 15 months earlier. Larvae were detected at three sites. Individuals had identical NADH dehydrogenase subunit 2 and cytb mtDNA gene sequences, and comparisons with genetic data from the species' native range suggest that these individuals belong to the nominal subspecies L. v. vulgaris. Climatic conditions across much of southern Australia are similar to those experienced within the species' native range, suggesting scope for substantial range expansion. Lissotriton vulgaris had been available in the Australian pet trade for decades before it was declared a 'controlled pest animal' in 1997, and thus the invasion documented here likely originated via the release or escape of captive animals. Lissotriton vulgaris is the sole member of an entire taxonomic order to have established in Australia, and given the potential toxicity of this species, further work is needed to delimit its current range and identify potential biodiversity impacts. © 2014 Springer International Publishing Switzerland.
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    Environmental DNA sampling is more sensitive than a traditional survey technique for detecting an aquatic invader
    Smart, AS ; Tingley, R ; Weeks, AR ; van Rooyen, AR ; McCarthy, MA (WILEY, 2015-10-01)
    Effective management of alien species requires detecting populations in the early stages of invasion. Environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling can detect aquatic species at relatively low densities, but few studies have directly compared detection probabilities of eDNA sampling with those of traditional sampling methods. We compare the ability of a traditional sampling technique (bottle trapping) and eDNA to detect a recently established invader, the smooth newt Lissotriton vulgaris vulgaris, at seven field sites in Melbourne, Australia. Over a four-month period, per-trap detection probabilities ranged from 0.01 to 0.26 among sites where L. v. vulgaris was detected, whereas per-sample eDNA estimates were much higher (0.29-1.0). Detection probabilities of both methods varied temporally (across days and months), but temporal variation appeared to be uncorrelated between methods. Only estimates of spatial variation were strongly correlated across the two sampling techniques. Environmental variables (water depth, rainfall, ambient temperature) were not clearly correlated with detection probabilities estimated via trapping, whereas eDNA detection probabilities were negatively correlated with water depth, possibly reflecting higher eDNA concentrations at lower water levels. Our findings demonstrate that eDNA sampling can be an order of magnitude more sensitive than traditional methods, and illustrate that traditional- and eDNA-based surveys can provide independent information on species distributions when occupancy surveys are conducted over short timescales.