School of BioSciences - Theses

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    Birds in the sky, fish in the sea, money in the bank: quantitative methods for more effective conservation
    Ryan, Gerard Edward ( 2021)
    My approach in this thesis was to explore how to wring more information out of existing data to reduce uncertainty, improve decision-making and hope to generate better conservation outcomes. I explore and develop a range of quantitative tools to this end. I look at three key areas: dealing with uncertainty, structuring decision making, and improving the use of existing information. I consider these concepts over three thematic case studies: monitoring the abundance of three vulture species in Cambodia, trading-off the costs and benefits of releasing information publicly when a new species or population is discovered, and comparing use of optimisation and project prioritisation protocols to allocate funding to species conservation efforts. In the first case-study, I develop new Bayesian hierarchical model to estimate vulture abundance, and compare the inferences available from this approach with less specialised approaches previously used. In the second case-study I develop a decision-making framework to allow decision-makers to explicitly trade-off costs and benefits, and apply the method to data collected from informants who have made these types of decisions themselves. In the final section, I explore whether additional information can improve optimisation to allocate funding, and compare performance in terms of expected avoided extinctions of the optimisation approach with a project prioritisation protocol. I find that there is indeed much more we can learn from the information we have. But this is not a free lunch – work needs to be done to uncover opportunities, and technical skills are often needed to make best use of them, and assumptions must often be made to draw conclusions.