Making robust decisions for conservation with restricted money and knowledge.

Published online
10 Dec 2008
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

McDonald-Madden, E. & Baxter, P. W. J. & Possingham, H. P.
Contact email(s)

Publication language
Indonesia & Sumatra


In conservation decision-making, we operate within the confines of limited funding. Furthermore, we often assume particular relationships between management impact and our investment in management. The structure of these relationships, however, is rarely known with certainty - there is model uncertainty. We investigate how these two fundamentally limiting factors in conservation management, money and knowledge, impact optimal decision-making. We use information-gap decision theory to find strategies for maximizing the number of extant subpopulations of a threatened species that are most immune to failure due to model uncertainty. We thus find a robust framework for exploring optimal decision-making. The performance of every strategy decreases as model uncertainty increases. The strategy most robust to model uncertainty depends not only on what performance is perceived to be acceptable but also on available funding and the time horizon over which extinction is considered. Synthesis and applications. We investigate the impact of model uncertainty on robust decision-making in conservation and how this is affected by available conservation funding. We show that subpopulation triage can be a natural consequence of robust decision-making. We highlight the need for managers to consider triage not as merely giving up, but as a tool for ensuring species persistence in light of the urgency of most conservation requirements, uncertainty and the poor state of conservation funding. We illustrate this theory by a specific application to allocation of funding to reduce poaching impact on the Sumatran tiger Panthera tigris sumatrae in Kerinci Seblat National Park.

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