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The Optimal Design of Conservation Investments

Conservation Investment in Practice

Natural Resource Management

We work on a range of problems that examine how ecology and socioeconomic sciences can be integrated more effectively to inform conservation strategies. This work spans theoretical and empirical techniques and examines both biodiversity conservation and the management of ecosystem services. 

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We develop theoretical principles to inform conservation investment design. Some are intended to provoke discussion and critical thinking within the conservation community. Others are intended to inform policy and practice more directly. Focal questions for us here concern:
  • where should conservation investments be targeted?
  • what types of investment strategy work best in what ecological, social and economic context?
  • when investing in a particular site, how should population dynamics and ecosystem processes inform your conservation investment strategy?
  • how effectively do investments made by different conservation organizations complement one another?
  • how can we configure conservation organizations more effectively to make and manage conservation investments?
Our recent work in this area has examined the relative effectiveness of full or partial (e.g., through easements) acquisition of land for conservation, as well as the design of payment schemes intended to incentivize conservation on private land.
sheep and heather
Recent examples of our work:
  1. Dumoulin, C., McMillan, T., Stoneman, R., Armsworth P.R. 2014 Locating human resources to reduce the cost of managing networks of protected areas. Conservation Letters, 7, 553-560.
  2. Kroetz, K., Sanchirico, J.N., Armsworth P.R., Banzhaf, H.S. 2014. Benefits of the ballot box for species conservation. Ecology Letters, 17, 294-302.
  3. Milt, A., Palmer, S. & Armsworth P.R. 2014. Updating conservation priorities over 111 years of species observations. Journal of Applied Ecology, 51, 1515-1524.
  4. Sutton N.J., Armsworth P.R. 2014. The grain of spatially referenced economic cost and biodiversity benefit data and the effectiveness of a cost targeting strategy. Conservation Biology, 28, 1451-1461.
  5. Lennox, G.D., Armsworth, P.R. 2013 The ability of landowners and their cooperatives to gain surplus from conservation contracts: worst-case scenarios, auctions and conservation objectives. Conservation Biology, 27, 625-634.
  6. Lennox, G.D., Gaston, K.J., Acs, S., Dallimer, M., Hanley, N., Armsworth P.R. 2013. Continuous conservation investments and the ability of landowners to gain surplus from conservation contracts. Ecological Economics, 93, 69-78.
  7. Armsworth, P.R., Acs, S., Dallimer, M., Gaston, K.J., Hanley, N.D., Wilson, P. 2012. The cost of policy simplification in conservation incentive programs. Ecology Letters, 15, 406-414.
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We are also building the evidence base regarding actual conservation investment practices on the ground. This work involves collaborators including local (e.g., Yorkshire Wildlife Trust) and global conservation NGOs (e.g., The Nature Conservancy) and a range of public agencies (e.g., NorthWest Florida Water Management District).  Focal questions this time examine:
  • how much does conservation cost and how are those costs currently met by different organizations?
  • how effectively are existing conservation investments deployed given what we know about the distribution of biodiversity and ecosystem services?
  • what is the evidence that investing in conservation in a site improves the status of the species and ecosystems found there?
  • what is the evidence that investments improve the ecosystem services provided by a site?
Recent examples of our work:
  1. Larson E.R., Howell S., Kareiva P., Armsworth P.R. 2016. Constraints of philanthropy in determining the distribution of biodiversity conservation funding. Conservation Biology, 30, 206-215.
  2. Armsworth, P.R., Larson, E.R., Jackson, S.T., Sax, D.F., Simonin, P., Blossey, B., Green, N., Klein, M.L., Lester, L., Ricketts, T.H., Runge, M.C., Shaw, M.R. 2015. Are conservation organizations configured for effective adaptation to global change? Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 13, 163-169.
  3. Armsworth, P.R. 2014. Inclusion of costs in conservation planning depends on limited data and hopeful assumptions. Annals of the New York Academy of the Sciences: Year in Ecology and Conservation Biology 2014, in press.
  4. Dallimer, M., Tinch, D., Hanley, N., Irvine, K.N., Rouquette, J.R., Warren, P.H., Maltby, L., Gaston, K.J., Armsworth, P.R. 2014. Quantifying preferences for the natural world : do monetary and non-monetary methods agree? Conservation Biology, 28, 404-413.
  5. Iacona, G.D., Price, F.D., Armsworth, P.R. 2014. Predicting the invadedness of protected areas. Diversity and Distributions, 20, 430-439.
  6. Kim, T., Cho, S., Larson, E.R., Armsworth, P.R. 2014. Protected area acquisition costs show economies of scale with area. Ecological Economics, 107, 122-132. 
  7. Larson, E., Boyer, A., Armsworth, P.R. 2014. Little evidence of behavioral responses to changing economic conditions by biodiversity conservation nonprofits. Ecology and Evolution, 4, 4429-4443.
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Questions in fisheries management provide one of the topic areas where the integration of ecology and economics is arguably most established. Again, we maintain active interests in this area. In particular, a number of current projects focus on the design of spatial management techniques (marine reserves and time-area closures) for managing harvesting pressure.
Recent examples of our work:
  1. Boettiger C., Bode M., Sanchirico J., LaRiviere J., Hastings A., Armsworth P.R. 2016. Optimal management of a stochastically varying population when policy adjustment is costly. Ecological Applications, doi: 10.1890/15-0236
  2. Bode, M., Armsworth, P.R., Fox, H.E., Bode, L. 2012. Surrogates for designing marine protected area networks in the absence of connectivity data. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 466, 155-166.
  3. Armsworth, P.R., Block, B., Eagle, J. & Roughgarden, J.E. 2011. The role of discounting and dynamics in determining the economic efficiency of time-area closures. Theoretical Ecology, 4, 513-526.
  4. Armsworth, P.R., Block, B.A., Eagle, J. & Roughgarden, J.E. 2010. The economic efficiency of a time-area closure to protect spawning bluefin tuna. Journal of Applied Ecology, 47, 36–46.
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