Australian environmental research to benefit from $6.9 million hub

Sunday, 16 July, 2006

Some of the world's best-known conservation biologists are joining forces to establish a $6.9 million research centre to address Australia's environmental challenges.

The Research Hub for Applied Environmental Decision Analysis, which was awarded funding this month through the Australian government's Commonwealth Environmental Research Facilities (CERF) Program, will be based at the University of Queensland and led by Prof Hugh Possingham.

Possingham, director of UQ's Ecology Centre, said there was an urgent need to explore, invent, test and disseminate better methods for making decisions that would lead to more cost-effective and reliable environmental outcomes.

"The outcome will be a set of tools, concepts, results and methodologies that will inform good policy development, planning and management in the CERF priority research areas: responding to climate change, water and soil management, and sustainable use of Australia's biodiversity," he said.

The hub will focus on innovation in three key areas to support good environmental policy development and decision making: new-generation decision-making tools; the theory and application of cost-effective, robust monitoring; and spatial analysis for conservation and restoration investment.

"Currently, most environmental managers and policymakers attempt to synthesise available information and reach a consensus position that balances competing social demands on natural resources," Possingham said.

"We all recognise that information and understanding of ecological processes are incomplete. Nevertheless, we invariably make decisions without any formal or theoretical support to deal with much of the known uncertainty.

"Recently, new decision-theoretic tools have been developed that allow managers to deal explicitly with spatial and temporal uncertainty. The hub will focus on developing and implementing new-generation decision-theoretic tools to assist managers to deal explicitly with uncertainty when mitigating threats and reconciling competing demands on natural resources."

The work will help regional, state and federal bodies answer questions like: where can I invest scarce conservation resources most effectively for habitat restoration or invasive species control; how much effort should I place on monitoring the environment instead of managing it; and which threats to biodiversity should be tackled in my region first?

The Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, said the hub would explore how Australia could make better environmental decisions.

"The research will give environment managers new tools to improve the sustainability of our agricultural landscapes in Australia's temperate regions," he said.

"These are vital policy and management matters which we need to get right. They are central to the future of our land and people."

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