PhD study: Biodiversity Offsets for moving conservation targets

Another PhD on Bio­di­ver­sity Off­sets was pub­lished this year. Joe Bull has pre­pared his work at Impe­r­ial Col­lege Lon­don, Depart­ment of Life Sci­ences. Saiga_Antelope His work focuses on bio­di­ver­sity off­sets for mov­ing con­ser­va­tion tar­gets. He exam­ines the case of the Saiga Ante­lope in the Ustyurt in Uzbek­istan. See alo my pre­vi­ous post Com­par­ing bio­di­ver­sity off­set cal­cu­la­tion meth­ods with a case study in Uzbek­istan — new paper by Bull et al. Fol­low­ing, I have included the abstract of the thesis.

Find the link to the PhD the­sis here and an uploaded Pdf here: JoeBull_2014_Biodiversity Off­sets for mov­ing con­ser­va­tion tar­gets


Con­ser­va­tion is dif­fi­cult for mov­ing tar­gets, such as migra­tory species or land­scapes sub­ject to envi­ron­men­tal change. Bio­di­ver­sity off­set­ting is a novel approach that involves active com­pen­sa­tion for bio­di­ver­sity lost through devel­op­ment, with an objec­tive of no net loss of bio­di­ver­sity over­all. In this the­sis, I explore the use of bio­di­ver­sity off­sets for mov­ing tar­gets. My case study is the con­ser­va­tion of the migra­tory saiga ante­lope Saiga tatar­ica along­side indus­try in the Ustyurt plateau, Uzbekistan.

Key chal­lenges for off­set­ting include: spec­i­fi­ca­tion of an appro­pri­ate frame of ref­er­ence for eval­u­at­ing no net loss, deter­mi­na­tion of req­ui­site eco­log­i­cal gains, and the degree of flex­i­bil­ity per­mit­ted in bio­di­ver­sity trades.

I use bespoke sim­u­la­tion mod­els to pre­dict whether no net loss of bio­di­ver­sity can be achieved within var­i­ous hypo­thet­i­cal frames of ref­er­ence, i.e. against dif­fer­ent socio-ecological base­lines and coun­ter­fac­tual sce­nar­ios. The ref­er­ence frame deter­mines the fea­si­bil­ity and effort required in achiev­ing con­ser­va­tion objec­tives, and I shed light upon those ecosys­tem dynam­ics for which off­sets may be appro­pri­ate. I develop a socio-ecological coun­ter­fac­tual for saigas and their Ustyurt habi­tat, rely­ing upon satel­lite imagery and sec­ondary data sets. Even with lim­ited data, it proves pos­si­ble to develop an instruc­tive coun­ter­fac­tual for intervention.

To cal­cu­late off­set require­ments, I first quan­tify impacts of indus­trial activ­ity on the Ustyurt. Veg­e­ta­tion impacts are mea­sured, mapped and pro­jected to the land­scape scale, and the influ­ence on mobile species such as saigas is con­sid­ered. Via quan­ti­ta­tive com­par­i­son, I show that the appli­ca­tion of dif­fer­ent avail­able off­set cal­cu­la­tion method­olo­gies to these data – which all pur­port to achieve no net loss of bio­di­ver­sity – would result in diver­gent off­set require­ments. This implies that off­set method­olo­gies should be tai­lored to spe­cific mov­ing tar­get prob­lems, rather than generalised.

Finally, I use con­ser­va­tion plan­ning soft­ware to com­pare the per­for­mance of flex­i­ble and non-flexible off­sets. Zona­tion is used to model the effect of per­mit­ting flex­i­bil­ity in the bio­log­i­cal, spa­tial and tem­po­ral con­straints placed upon off­set­ting, and RobOff to assess the opti­mum return on invest­ment under uncer­tainty. I find that a mix­ture of flex­i­ble and non-flexible off­sets is desir­able for con­serv­ing mov­ing tar­gets in the Ustyurt.

We must give deeper con­sid­er­a­tion to the dynamic nature of ecosys­tems when design­ing con­ser­va­tion inter­ven­tions. Bio­di­ver­sity off­sets have poten­tial in this regard. To realise the poten­tial, we should spec­ify appro­pri­ate frames of ref­er­ence, tai­lor met­rics, and con­sider allow­ing flex­i­ble bio­di­ver­sity trades.



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