Conservation decisions and planning

Conservation planning: One important area of our research is in conservation planning, which focuses on where to act. Systematic conservation planning is also known as spatial conservation prioritization, reserve design, multi-objective planning… the list goes on. Example software/tools include Zonation and Marxan. Our research in this area includes planning for species persistence, integrating social and biodiversity values, types of biodiversity data, and effects of uncertainty on decisions (see publications below). Collaborators include Professor Hugh Possingham (University of Queensland), Bob Pressey (JCU), and many people at Qaeco. Current projects include conservation planning on the Tiwi Islands, in collaboration with the Tiwi Land Council to support the Land Council in planning and management decisions.We are collating data, developing species distribution models, and applying planning tools to quantify the impacts of alternative scenarios. This work is with Tracey Regan, Brett Murphy and MSc student Bill La Marca (all in Qaeco at the University of Melbourne), and others.

Conservation decisions are inevitably made with incomplete and uncertain data, and based on uncertain models. Therefore better tools and frameworks are needed to understand types and sources of uncertainty, and ways of dealing with uncertainty to make more robust management decisions. This research theme spans across all the others listed – uncertainty is pervasive! Applications include information-gap decision theory, a methods developed by Yakov Ben-Haim, and sensitivity analysis to conservation planning and modelling.



  • Whitehead A.L., Kujala H., Ives C.D., Gordon A., Lentini P.E., Wintle B.A., Nicholson E. & Raymond C.R. (2014) Integrating biological and social values when prioritizing places for biodiversity conservation. Conservation Biology, early view online [link]
  • Nicholson E., Lindenmayer D.B., Frank K. & Possingham H.P. (2013). Testing the focal species approach to conservation planning for species persistence. Diversity and Distributions, 19 (5-6): 530–540 [link]
  • Nicholson, E., Collen, B., Barausse, A., Blanchard, J. L., Costelloe, B. T., Sullivan, K. M. E., Underwood, F. M., Burn, R. W., Fritz, S., Jones, J. P. G., McRae, L., Possingham, H. P. & Milner-Gulland, E. J. (2012) Robust policy decisions with global biodiversity indicators. PLoS One, 7(7): e41128 [link]
  • De Ornellas P., Milner-Gulland E.J. & Nicholson E. (2011). The impact of data realities on conservation planning. Biological Conservation, 144, 1980–1988 [link].
  • Nicholson E. & O. Ovaskainen (2009) Conservation prioritization using metapopulation models. pp 110-121, in Spatial conservation prioritisation: quantitative methods and computational tools (eds. Moilanen A, Possingham HP & Wilson KA). Oxford University Press, Oxford. [email for a pdf]
  • Nicholson E. & H. P. Possingham (2007) Making conservation decisions under uncertainty for the persistence of multiple species. Ecological Applications 17 (1): 251-265. [link]
  • E. Nicholson, M. I. Westphal, K. Frank , W. A. Rochester, R. L. Pressey, D. Lindenmayer & H. P. Possingham (2006) A new method for conservation planning for the persistence of multiple species. Ecology Letters 9 (9): 1049-1060. [link]