Cost‐effective conservation of an endangered frog under uncertainty
How should managers choose among conservation options when resources are scarce and there is uncertainty regarding the effectiveness of actions? Well‐developed tools exist for prioritizing areas for one‐time and binary actions (e.g., protect vs. not protect), but methods for prioritizing incremental or ongoing actions (such as habitat creation and maintenance) remain uncommon. We devised an approach that combines metapopulation viability and cost‐effectiveness analyses to select among alternative conservation actions while accounting for uncertainty. In our study, cost‐effectiveness is the ratio between the benefit of an action and its economic cost, where benefit is the change in metapopulation viability. We applied the approach to the case of the endangered growling grass frog (Litoria raniformis), which is threatened by urban development. We extended a Bayesian model to predict metapopulation viability under 9 urbanization and management scenarios and incorporated the full probability distribution of possible outcomes for each scenario into the cost‐effectiveness analysis. This allowed us to discern between cost‐effective alternatives that were robust to uncertainty and those with a relatively high risk of failure. We found a relatively high risk of extinction following urbanization if the only action was reservation of core habitat; habitat creation actions performed better than enhancement actions; and cost‐effectiveness ranking changed depending on the consideration of uncertainty. Our results suggest that creation and maintenance of wetlands dedicated to L. raniformis is the only cost‐effective action likely to result in a sufficiently low risk of extinction. To our knowledge we are the first study to use Bayesian metapopulation viability analysis to explicitly incorporate parametric and demographic uncertainty into a cost‐effective evaluation of conservation actions. The approach offers guidance to decision makers aiming to achieve cost‐effective conservation under uncertainty.
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