Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Victorian Biodiversity Conference 6th – 7th February 2018

After a successful inaugural Victorian Biodiversity Conference earlier this year, a group of motivated students and early career researchers from a wide range of Victorian Universities (RMIT, La Trobe, Monash, Federation, Charles Sturt, Melbourne, Deakin) have begun planning our next conference to be held early February 2018 at La Trobe University, Melbourne (


Halgania cyanea (Boraginaceae) from the Victorian Mallee

This event aims to be a low cost and accessible conference to promote networking between graduate and postdoctoral researchers, as well as practitioners in government and NGOs working on research related to Victorian biodiversity.

The conference will provide an important and rare opportunity for young researchers to hear from government, industry and non-governmental organisations, as well as foster inter-University interactions through a series of plenaries, invited talks, workshops and networking opportunities.


A bee on a daisy in the Victorian Alps

We are organising!
Get your abstracts ready, and stay tuned for further updates!
Visit our website:




Dividing lines in conservation

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 11.51.47 amAs members of an interdisciplinary lab, I initially thought our views of conservation would be a little more divergent. But, after taking the Future of Conservation Survey (like a personality test for conservationists), it seems we collectively straddle the left-hand side of the Conservation and Capitalism x-axis; meaning that we view natural and social systems as inseparable and intertwined. We fell into the New Conservationists or Critical Social Science groupings (for a comprehensive breakdown of the groupings visit the description page).

Where we differ and only just slightly, are in our views the roles that market-based mechanisms, ecosystem services and corporations play in conservation. Our group is made up of wayward physicists, ecologists, political scientists, and practitioners whose epistemologies for the most part reflect pragmatism rather than strict ideologies and I guess this pragmatism is the reason why we were all mostly aligned.

As you can see from my red dot on the graph I fall in the upper left quadrant, the New Conservation “camp”, but only just so. There were certain statements in the questionnaire such as “Economic arguments for conservation are risky because they can lead to unintended negative conservation outcomes” that I think most conservationists agree with even if they, as I do, support the limited use of financial instruments or economic case for the conservation of biodiversity. Economic incentives can work but they often do not (Lim et al. 2017, Selinske et al. 2017)—context matters.

At least from the snapshot of other’s results that took the test before me, it seems that most would agree with Georgina Mace’s Science editorial Whose Conservation? in which she posits that we are currently in a People and Nature framing of conservation, celebrating interdisciplinarity, both social and ecological sciences and concepts of change such as resilience and adaptability; rejecting a nature for people and “Half-Earth” framing of conservation. The debates that mark conservation—new conservation vs. traditional conservation; land-sparing vs. land sharing—are not black or white and it is likely that many conservationists have nuanced views of conservation, and fall across the spectrum.

Debates are a fixture of conservation science, because we are passionate about our work and the direction of conservation as evidenced by our recent disagreement with an article published by Peter Karieva and Emma Fuller. Conservation practice emerged as a ‘big tent’ movement encompassing the divergent views of visionaries such as Muir, Pinchot, and Leopold, and this continued diversity in conservation science should be supported, critiqued and embraced as the conservation community for some time will remain an assemblage of philosophies and approaches to conservation policy and implementation.

Why politics and context matter in conservation policy

By Florence Damiens

Politics and context matter for conservation policy. That is why our research group, in collaboration with Brian Coffey and Lauren Rickards from RMIT University’s Centre for Urban Research, has just published a collective reply to Peter Kareiva and Emma Fuller’s article in Global Policy.

In brief, we argue that Kareiva’s and Fuller’s proposal does not sufficiently consider the core challenges faced by biodiversity conservation researchers and practitioners in this time of dramatic change, for people and nature. Conservation issues are context-dependent: ecological, economic, social, ethical and political. Embracing and responding to this complexity is a necessity when conceiving potential solutions for the future of conservation, humans and the biosphere.

While some of the approaches the authors promote may work in particular situations, we believe their proposal risks unintended and detrimental social and ecological consequences by presenting them as global solutions to complex problems that are context-dependent. In particular, their proposal does not address some of the key causes of biodiversity loss, i.e. over-exploitation of natural resources, intensive agricultural activity, urban development, and pollution. These causes are accepted as fait accompli and their mitigation as potential conservation strategies is not considered. New technologies and ‘managing for evolution’ are presented as guiding principles for any context, which is problematic. Moreover, the questions around what should be conserved, the processes by which biodiversity is valued, and who has the legitimacy to value it are not addressed. Lastly, we argue that a one-size-fits-all utilitarian approach and a neoliberal governance model, as proposed by Kareiva and Fuller, risks poor involvement or opposition from communities and societies and may undermine their traditional structures and relationships with nature.

See our full reply here: Damiens et al. (Online, 13 March 2017)

If you can’t access the paper using this link please send me an e-mail ( and I will send you the pdf directly – thanks!

ICSRG at the Banksia Awards

Last week, I attended the Banksia Awards dinner in Sydney, hopeful of bringing home the Sustainable Cities Award for our entry Biodiversity Sensitive Urban Design.


ICSRG Researcher Georgia Garrard at the Banksia Awards

Unfortunately, we didn’t win – the gong was taken by 202020 Vision, who have been working towards a target of 20% more green space in Australian cities by 2020. But I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on some of the benefits of the experience, which lies outside of the day-to-day experiences of most researchers.

First, it was fun! We got to dress up in cocktail/lounge wear, which is otherwise pretty much non-existent for conservation researchers.

But jokes aside, although Awards like this are not necessarily recognised by the reward structures we are used to, a number of potential benefits became pretty obvious very early on.  The Banksia Awards are held in very high regard by industry and local government.  Winning one (and perhaps even being a finalist, as we were) could be very helpful when trying to secure industry partners for research grants. In addition to (or perhaps BECAUSE of) this, recognition by the Banksia Foundation is an indication of the relevance of research beyond academia and therefore helpful in demonstrating research impact. And finally, the Awards attract a large number of applicants and I found it to be a great way of learning about what is going on in my own field OUTSIDE of academia. And there’s a LOT. The Awards dinner was a great opportunity to engage with a different group of people who are potential collaborators, stakeholders and end-users of our research.

Biodiversity Sensitive Urban Design by ICSRG researchers Georgia Garrard and Sarah Bekessy was a Finalist in the Banksia Sustainable Cities Award.  We’d like to acknowledge the great work done by other finalists and winners, as highlighted here.  We’d also like to thank The Myer Foundation and RMIT’s Centre for Urban Research for supporting our research and application.

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.

PhD Opportunity

The role of communication and messaging for community buy-in to threatened species conservation.

We have top-up funding for a PhD student to undertake research on the role of communication and messaging for enhancing community buy-in and support for threatened species conservation. Potential topics include Increasing support for non-charismatic species: How to get the unloved loved? and Understanding attitudes towards the role of fire and threatened species control in threatened species management, however we encourage students to propose other topics within the broader scope of the topic.

We are offering a top-up of $7,000 per year, to augment the PhD stipend. Students must have their own PhD stipend or scholarship. International applicants welcome.

Please contact Georgia Garrard: or +61 3 9925 9986.