PhD Opportunity – Improved messaging for threatened species conservation

We have funding for a PhD student to investigate the role of targeted messaging and framing for improving threatened species conservation.  A tax-free stipend of approximately $35,000/yr for 3 years is provided by RMIT University and the National Environmental Science Programme’s Threatened Species Recovery Hub.

Details on the project, and how to apply, are available here.

Get in touch – soon!  RMIT applications for PhDs beginning in 2017 close on October 31st 2016.

How satisfied and motivated are landholders with conservation covenants?


Landholders who have a conservation covenant on the title of their property (sometimes known as “covenantors”) have taken on the responsibility of managing their land for nature.

As with many things, the enthusiasm of landholders to continually manage their land in ways that benefit biodiversity is driven in large part by why they got involved in the first place, and stay involved (their motivations) and how satisfied they are with participating (satisfaction).

Following a similar study in South Africa, our group has helped develop and send out a survey on motivations and satisfaction to covenantors across Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania, in conjunction with members of the Australian Land Conservation Alliance. It is part of a broader initiative to better understand how landholders feel about participating in private land conservation initatives, and will help guide the development of these programmes.

A summary of the results will be made available early next year, so stay tuned…

Oh, and if you are a covenantor in NSW, Victoria or Tasmania and you have been sent a link to the survey, we politely urge you to fill it out and have your say!

National Feral Cat Management Survey

Photo by Fredy MercayDid you know?

Australia has the highest extinction rate of native species on earth. The impact of feral cats has been recognised as one of the major threats to Australia’s native and endangered wildlife. In many cases, feral cats could be the final threat that causes a species to become extinct.

This is the first study of its kind.

Researchers from RMIT University are looking for volunteers to participate in a survey that asks questions about feral cat management in Australia. The information collected will help to generate a better understanding of feral cat management across the nation, including how to make improvements.

You can help by participating in this survey.

The survey should take around 5 mins. There are no identifying questions asked – you will remain anonymous. You will be asked a couple of non-identifying demographic questions (e.g., age range, occupation and State/Territory of residence). You are under no obligation to answer any questions.

If you would like to participate in this survey and help with this research please visit the following link: National Feral Cat Management Survey

Beyond Advocacy – a new take on the advocacy debate

Georgia will be presenting this work at the North American Congress for Conservation Biology next week in Madison, Wisconsin (Tuesday, 19th July, 8AM, Hall of Ideas Room E), please come along if you’re going to the conference.

James Kenyon Cartoon_signedLate last year, we published (in collaboration with colleagues from The University of Melbourne) an article in Conservation Letters, which we hope will open up a little more space for conservation scientists and ecologists to engage in public debates without the fear of being labelled an advocate and, by association, having their scientific credibility questioned.

We were motivated to write the paper by what we considered to be a general reluctance by conservation scientists to join public debates about conservation issues and policy.  Without the voices of scientists, public conversations about conservation are dominated by vested interest groups – business and industry on the one hand, and NGOs and lobby groups on the other.  As a result, public debate about these important issues is impoverished.

However, we believe that the reasons conservation scientists choose not to engage are in large part based on misconceptions about the relationship between scientific integrity and objectivity.  In our paper, we set out to unpack this relationship a little bit.  Our key point is that values have a role and a place in science. It is not possible nor advisable for an individual scientist to be value-free.

But thankfully, objectivity isn’t maintained by individuals. It is an emergent property of a collective.  And greater diversity in the scientific community helps to ensure scrutiny and self-correction.  So, in other words, objectivity is maintained by the whole community of scientists, not individual scientists or established statistical thresholds.

Once you accept this, many of the common arguments against advocacy by scientists (ie. that advocacy will damage your credibility, or that advocacy is outside the scope of science) simply don’t make sense.

Of course, it is not the case that ‘anything goes’ when it comes to advocacy by scientists.  There are some value judgements (eg. what is a tolerable level of extinction risk?) that can and should be disentangled from judgements that are more factual in nature (eg. what is the probability of extinction?).  And scientists should aim to avoid inadvertent advocacy (which occurs when a scientist presents personal preference as a scientific judgement) or advocacy by stealth (in which values are deliberately dressed up as facts).

Drawing on precedents in medicine and the social sciences, we provide some guidance for scientists and science in general for responsible advocacy in order to reclaim some space for scientists to engage in informed public debate about conservation issues, in a way that does not deny their value-system.

What is the fate of Victoria’s flower-strewn plains?

ISCRG’s Georgia Garrard and Sarah Bekessy discuss the fate of Victoria’s native grasslands as part of The Conversation’s Ecocheck series.


The native grasslands of the Victorian Volcanic Plain are one of Australia’s most endangered ecosystems. Productive and fertile, these grasslands were quickly converted to grazing pastures by early European settlers, and a notable degradation in their quality was documented by the beginning of the 20th century.  Since then, the addition of fertilisers, and clearing for cropping and development have led to further losses. Now, less than 1% of the original extent of these native grasslands remains.

Native grasslands are intriguing ecosystems. Historically, they provided habitat for a wide array of native animals, including rufous bettongs and eastern barred bandicoots, and were an important food source for Aboriginal people. Today, native grasslands are still home to fascinating native species, such as the grassland earless dragon and striped legless lizard, and native wildflowers continue produce a dazzling array of colour during spring (although you might have to get up close to see them!).

Conservation of these systems must occur alongside human-dominated landuses, such as urban development and agriculture. Community engagement is critical. Grasslands in other parts of the world, such as North America’s prairies or the African savannah, are viewed with romanticism and awe. In the Australian consciousness, grasslands take a back seat to the mythical outback. But the future of the grasslands of southeastern Victoria may well depend on our capacity to generate the same public profile for this truly remarkable but critically endangered ecosystem.

New ARC-Linkage Project: Designing green spaces for biodiversity and human well-being

FB view - CourtyardThe health and well-being of urban residents is intrinsically linked to green spaces and their biodiversity. Yet little is known about the mechanisms through which green space design delivers biodiversity and human well-being benefits. Through our recently funded Australian Research Council – Linkage Project ‘Designing green spaces for biodiversity and human well-being’ (LP160100324) we aim to discover those mechanisms, contributing to theoretical knowledge about socio-ecological interactions, and to practical knowledge about effective urban design. We aim to:

1. Investigate the mechanisms linking green space design to biodiversity outcomes;

2. Investigate the mechanisms linking green space to human well-being; and

3. Develop best practice urban design guidelines that reflect these mechanisms and supports biodiversity and human well-being.

The involvement of a major city council (The City of Melbourne), an international consulting agency (Arup), a landscape design firm (Phillip Johnson Landscapes) and an environmental NGO (Greening Australia) as Partner Organisations provides a unique opportunity to ensure the results of our project will have an impact on urban greening practice.

The Chief Investigators in this ARC-Linkage Project are: A/Prof Sarah Bekessy (RMIT University), A/Prof Richard Fuller (University of Queensland), A/Prof Dieter Hochuli (University of Sydney), Dr Fiona Fidler (University of Melbourne), Dr Cecily Maller (RMIT University), Dr Ascelin Gordon (RMIT University), Dr Georgia Garrard (RMIT University), Dr Christopher Ives (University of Nottingham), Dr Luis Mata (RMIT University) and A/Prof Adrian Dyer (RMIT University).