Scheme: Wolfson Research Merit Awards
Organisation: Imperial College London
Dates: Apr 2008-Mar 2013
Summary: Decision-making is at the heart of conservation. Governments decide how much funding to allocate to which initiatives, and managers decide how to spend the money most effectively to monitor and conserve biodiversity. At the smaller scale, local people decide how to use and conserve the biodiversity in their area. Any change in a person’s incentives will alter their decision-making, which feeds back into their behaviour. Often conservationists ignore the indirect effects of their interventions on biodiversity, through people’s decision-making, and consider only the direct effects. For example, a new protected area may directly conserve biodiversity by preventing people from harvesting within its boundaries, but this new restriction will change people’s incentives. It may displace their harvesting elsewhere or persuade them to stop harvesting and take up another livelihood. Which of these happens will fundamentally alter the overall conservation outcome. My work focusses on understanding how individual people and animals make decisions about their use of the environment, and how conservation interventions alter these decisions. Taking this approach allows me to discover whether their individual responses to conservation actions might combine to lead to unexpected outcomes at the landscape scale. I am applying my work to improving the effectiveness of some exciting new approaches to conservation which rely on changing people’s incentives, including payments for ecosystem services and biodiversity offsets. I am also looking at how to ensure people comply with conservation rules, both within communities and in protected areas, and how to conserve migratory species, whose movement decisions make them particularly hard to conserve. I feel that combining an understanding of individual-level behaviour with a broader understanding of system dynamics at the landscape scale will improve our ability to predict the outcome of conservation interventions in a changing world.