Combining a broad suite of ecological principles into one, integrated, conservation planning decision support system: An open access prototype and results
A quality conservation planning system is a framework and tool to help organizations decide where to conserve, how (i.e. acquisition, stewardship, etc.), and why. They improve as they become more horizontally and vertically integrated. Vertical integration involves automating the sequential steps in planning, from data collection to pre-processing to analysis to display to communication. Horizontally integrated systems combine a suite of traditionally isolated algorithms—such as those for site-specific valuation, optimal solution sets (i.e. reserve design), contiguity, and connectivity—into an automated workflow with feedbacks. An open access prototype of such an integrated system was developed and used in a case study. It uses a “return on investment” approach and combines the objectives of NatureServe Vista, Marxan with Zones, and CorridorDesigner/LinkageMapper. A site valuation process combines with an algorithm allocating a variety of land management options in near-optimal solution sets while considering factors including contiguity, representation, naturalness, management quality, and connectivity. The connectivity algorithm prioritizes not only paths within a linkage, but also linkages within a landscape.
The results illustrate some of the direct and indirect benefits of such a system in conserving biodiversity for a region, as well as in prioritizing research needs for conservation science in general. A stability analysis (a form of sensitivity analysis) evaluated the impact of the various ecological and conservation planning assumptions driving conservation planning systems. Surprisingly, the biggest influence was in properly valuing the contribution of private conservation areas to the conservation network. Meanwhile, assumptions affecting optimal representation had relatively low influence. This highly integrated prototype is an exciting new application for conservation planning and management, and also a framework for exploring the science of conservation ecology. Further, an open science roadmap is suggested for how this system can be combined with other open access systems to achieve deeper and broader integration.