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Wagner, HH*; Jedicke, E; Retzer, V; Böhmer, H-J: Turning landscape conservation projects into biodiversity experiments
Talk, 7th World congress of IALE “25 years Landscape Ecology: Scientific Principles in Practice”, Wageningen: 2007-07-08 - 2007-07-12



The design of landscape-level conservation projects frequently relies on hardly demonstrable theoretical assumptions. For instance, the promotion of ecological networks relies on the assumption that corridors and stepping stone habitats increase the exchange of individuals of target species among local populations, thus facilitating the persistence of metapopulations and preserving biodiversity at a landscape scale. This paradigm, however, is rarely tested in the field, partly due to a lack of empirically testable targets and a deficiency in the systematic evaluation of the effectiveness of conservation management strategies. The lack of such standards makes it very difficult to draw general conclusions from existing conservation projects. There are several reasons for that: exchange of knowledge and experience between planners and conservationists on the one hand and ecological scientists on the other hand is usually very limited. Furthermore, no mechanisms for the long-time evaluation of conservation projects exist. At the same time, landscape ecological research is significantly lacking in landscape-level experiments for most species and ecosystems. Our aim is to bring together theory and practice in long time experiments that address key issues of biodiversity management, landscape ecology, and land-use systems, and are highly relevant for application.

Major issues

We identified two major issues that need to be addressed. First, a meta-analysis of existing projects should be carried out with the goal of identifying critical thresholds for target parameters (e.g. connectivity of a landscape). Second, new long-term projects should be established under an adaptive management paradigm, which involves a close collaboration between science and application with the following components: (1) effective transfer of scientific knowledge, (2) empirical testing of hypothesized effects on target parameters, and (3) adaptation of theoretical and applied knowledge. There are some important challenges to be met.

Challenges & possible solutions
  • Maintaining continuity and thus knowledge transfer is a general problem due to the short-term duration of many scientific projects. Long-term projects should be planned in project phases of 3 years (duration of typical PhD programs), e.g. phase 1: baseline data collection, model development, experimental setup (manipulation); phase 2: analysis of short-term effects, initial verification and adaptation of models; phase 3: analysis of long-term effects, final model verification, evaluation and generalization of sustainability of effects, identification of knowledge gaps and issues for continuing research activities. Personal continuity must be maintained at the level of institutions and senior scientists for at least 12 years. In addition, the transfer of specialist knowledge between generations of PhD students needs to be facilitated e.g. through summer schools or partially overlapping working schedule.
  • Scientifically sound experimental design needs to be facilitated by establishing a generic procedure involving the components of base-line survey, manipulation, prediction, and evaluation of hypothesized effects. The aspects of replication and randomization need to be addressed. For instance, species with similar requirements (ecoprofiles) are expected to respond to landscape changes in a similar way and thus can be treated as replicates within a study. The study design should account for an increased risk of loss of replicates due to the long-term duration. The application of a standardized procedure will enhance comparability among studies and increase the validity of empirical results.
  • Funding of such projects, which should be maximally focussed despite of the necessary complexity, will most likely involve multiple funding agencies. This may result in a high administrative effort. Planning should be long-term (in contrast to the actual funding policy of funding agencies), but allow for flexible adaptation of the project. Funding agencies should be involved early in the planning process.
  • Meta analysis is impeded by the fact that applied projects typically are documented in administrative reports (grey literature) but not in international scientific journals. A meta-analysis should be carried out, involving the following steps: (1) systematic survey of existing landscape-level conservation projects (e.g. by establishing an internet data base); (2) analysis of project aims and context using standard criteria; (3) summary of effects and evaluation of thresholds; and (4) additional field evaluation as deemed necessary.
  • Increase awareness of scientific principles among all actors in order to facilitate long-term successful collaboration. Communication needs to be tailored to the different target groups to keep scientists, planners, and local managers informed about the goals, progress, and success of a project.
  • Maximizing policy relevance by taking into account larger-scale social, political, and economic trends and developments will help avoid cuts and disruptions in the funding or implementation of conservation projects and the scientific experiments associated with them.

This paper is the result of a group project within the workshop "Landscape changes and biodiversity: Landscape ecological research towards sustainable land use in Europe" organized by the GfOe Ecological Society Specialist Group Landscape Ecology (http://www.gfoe.org/gfoe-arbeitskreise/landschaftsoekologie.html) and held on June 23-25, 2006, in Giessen, Germany.
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