Thu 28 Sep 2017: 3.00pm @ NUS DBS CR1 – Cecilia Larrosa on “Unintended Feedbacks: challenges and opportunities for improving conservation”

PhD Defense Seminar cum Oral Examination: 28 September 2017, Thursday, (Cecilia Larrosa / Dr Carrasco) – 3pm


Human reactions to conservation interventions can trigger unintended feedbacks resulting in poor conservation outcomes. Understanding unintended feedbacks is a necessary first step toward the diagnosis and solution of environmental problems, but existing anecdotal evidence cannot support decision-making. The aim of this PhD is to improve our understanding of the role these unintended feedbacks play in conservation science, and provide recommendations for incorporating them into practice.

After analysing the implications these unintended feedbacks have for conservation from a social-ecological systems perspective, I present a conceptual framework and a typology of unintended feedbacks drawing on examples of conservation science and provide recommendations for future work. In the remaining three chapters I focus on large-scale potential economic feedbacks based on recommendations from chapter two. Widely used tools for conservation planning could produce misleading recommendations if feedbacks are ignored. For example, in systematic conservation planning, effectiveness depends partly on accounting for natural and anthropogenic dynamics. Some dynamic conservation planning approaches exist, but they need to be further developed, and assessed against static approaches. I develop a model that accounts for both economic and environmental feedbacks into spatial planning for a set-aside programme, and compare it with a static approach. I model changes in forest connectivity and land opportunity costs to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of the set-aside programme based on spatial static and discrete dynamic conservation planning. Finally, I apply the model I developed to multiple policy relevant targets of Atlantic Forest restoration and provide recommendations for prioritising areas.

This work identifies an urgent needed for the collection of evidence in a structured way in order to understand the mechanisms by which human decision-making feeds through to conservation outcomes at different scales. Socio-economic data availability, a mismatch in scale between data availability and prioritisation grain, and economic model complexity present the main limitations to accounting for these feedbacks in spatial conservation planning. Even though a dynamic approach to spatial conservation planning does entail higher computational requirements and transactions costs, I find the potential benefits in terms of increased cost-effectiveness could offset these costs. Most importantly, the analysis shows that a dynamic approach can help decision-makers maximise the existence of informational rents by prioritising areas with higher informational rent capture and still result in a lower overall intervention cost. Accounting for environmental and economic feedbacks can be a valuable tool for more evenly distributed interventions that provide higher incentives for participation without increasing intervention cost.

People adapt and respond to conservation interventions, and their actions feed through into changes in the conservation situation itself; this fact is something that conservationists rely on for their impact. However, these same responses are being overlooked when they affect outcomes indirectly through unintended feedbacks. The research undertaken for this PhD advances knowledge on the role feedbacks play in both applied conservation and conservation science.


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