International: Decision support for restoring ecological networks in rapidly developing, biodiverse countries

Lead Research Organisation: University of Liverpool
Department Name: Institute of Integrative Biology

Abstract

Ecosystems are under threat worldwide - natural habitats are being lost and the remaining areas are degraded and fragmented. Developing countries in the tropics have some of the world's highest concentrations of endemic species, but very high rates of land-use change. Climate change is already affecting tropical species, and there is particular concern about whether they will be able to shift from areas that become too hot or dry, across fragmented landscapes, to reach refuges in montane regions. If land-use change and forest degradation continue too intensively in these countries, species and ecosystem functions will be lost, leading to detrimental impacts on the livelihoods of local people dependent on these lands. Habitats across a landscape can be thought of as an "ecological network", and these networks need to have sufficient habitat area, quality and connectivity to be functional. Robust ecological networks require stronger protection of existing habitat and restoration of degraded forest. Policy makers and nature conservation practitioners are increasingly thinking about biodiversity conservation at landscape scales, but continuing land-use change leads to difficult decisions about how to prioritise habitat preservation and restoration, and technologies are lacking to allow practitioners to be able to do this.

There is huge potential for landscape prioritisation to be informed by NERC-funded research. We have developed a model based on ecological understanding of range shifts, which quantifies how different elements of a habitat network contribute to long-distance connectivity. This model can also identify the best habitat to preserve, or locations to target for restoration. We have also quantified biodiversity in fragmented tropical forest habitats, and shown how land-use change affects forest species, in particular the extent to which they can persist in selectively logged forest, small forest fragments, extensive plantations and intensive plantations. This knowledge can now be used innovatively with new technologies and data, particularly remotely sensed data, to enable large-scale sustainable land-use planning for tropical developing countries under climate change.

This project will develop an online spatial decision support tool for planning robust and resilient habitat networks under climate change. Our tool will be co-created and tested with partners in Ghana, Indonesia and Malaysia, locations where landscape planning is urgently required to support the livelihoods of local communities and other stakeholders dependent on building resilient landscapes under environmental change . Our partner organisations are responsible for sustainable forest planning and biodiversity protection in their countries, balancing biodiversity and socio-economic needs of landscapes. Our partners have proposed specific case studies that exemplify the most pressing choices and alternative scenarios they face - our new tool will be applied with their existing data to highlight priorities for action. Priorities will be based on connectivity benefits for biodiversity, weighted by economic costs and stakeholder preferences.
The most tangible and long-lasting output of this project will be the freely available web interface to our tool, backed by a high-performance computing cluster in Liverpool that will perform the analyses. This interface makes the tool globally accessible, and is vital for future users in developing countries, because computing power limitations would preclude them running a desktop version. The project will also provide face-to-face training to relevant stakeholders in our partner countries, and online tutorial materials tailored to the needs of developing countries. Hence we will build capacity for our tool to be used as part of multidisciplinary projects addressing development challenges in future, to find efficient solutions where vital networks of natural habitat coexist with the needs of local stakeholders.

Planned Impact

The primary beneficiaries from this project will be landscape planners and policy makers in developing countries; initially in our three partner countries, Ghana, Indonesia and Malaysia, but ultimately across the globe. The job of planning forestry, biodiversity conservation, and climate change mitigation and adaptation involves cross-sector collaboration to enable multifunctional landscapes which provide for biodiversity, ecosystem services, food and energy security, human health and quality of life. This is particularly true in tropical, developing countries, where land use is under growing pressure from many socio-economic factors. Agencies such as National Park Authorities, Forestry Departments and REDD+ secretariats play a key role in enabling, overseeing and delivering habitat management and recovery. This proposal enjoys enthusiastic support from representatives this kinds, as evidenced by the attached letters. These partners will form the foundation of the end-user network in developing countries, which will be expanded throughout the project.

They will benefit from the project's objectives through improved ability to prioritise the habitat restoration and creation they undertake, which will allow them to spend limited resources in the most efficient and effective way. They have a need for "better decision support in land use planning ... to ensure connectivity and resilience to climate change" but "face logistical and IT challenges" and "do not have access to a suitable online tool to assess connectivity" which limits them in this regard (quotes from letters of support). This will facilitate greater habitat connectivity and therefore resilience for the future in these countries with rich, highly endemic biodiversity, whilst preserving the right of the people to live off the land in a sustainable way.

The proximate impacts of the work of this project will be that our partners and other organisations will be using a simple, intuitive and online tool, based on the highest quality science, to achieve their mission by:
[A] Prioritising for both habitat protection and restoration with consideration of the multitude of movement directions expected in tropical landscapes.
[B] Using the best available data on habitat quality to enhance the accuracy of results in the absence of species specific data.
[C] Finding multiple-win solutions for land management, showing opportunities to conserve natural habitats and avoid inappropriate development without damaging livelihoods, by accounting for socio-economic constraints and opportunities, which vary across the landscape.
[D] Building vital societal support for conservation and winning cooperation from multiple stakeholders by communicating a coherent vision of the desired network.
Without such as tool, there will be no straightforward way to plan habitat restoration in the face of climate change - stakeholders will be left with ad-hoc, "expert opinion" approaches because they do not have the time, data and expertise to use complex models as scientists do.

By means of this improved policy and land-use practice, habitat will be created and restored to form a large-scale ecological network for biodiversity conservation, resilient to climate change, which also delivers ecosystem services. This will in turn improve quality of life because of the multiple direct and indirect benefits of stable ecosystems to the human population: subsistence communities in tropical developing countries are particularly dependent on the local ecosystem for their livelihoods, food, water, medicine and culture. The impacts of our tool could spread worldwide, and this project would remove the key factors limiting uptake.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description This project has not yet finished so it is too early to quantify most of the impacts. However, we have already achieved impact through our training activities: helping to increase the institutional capacity for planning sustainable habitat networks in tropical developing countries under climate change. The training has already led to some participants using the Condatis software without our help. For more detail see the Engagement Activities section. Our training reached people with the most relevant roles and responsibilities in Malaysia, Indonesia and Ghana, for example in forestry departments and national park directorates. For more detail see the collaboration and partnerships section. Links to the SDGs: Conserving biodiversity, and mitigating and adapting to climate change are integral aspects of truly sustainable development, and contribute to people's welfare in numerous ways. Our work is particularly relevant to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) #13 'climate action' and #15 'life on land', but all 17 goals are intrinsically linked as they must foster economic growth, ensure social inclusion and protect the environment - a balancing act which Condatis can facilitate. Policy-makers in developing countries will need to implement large-scale plans to build ecologically functioning habitat networks that can respond and adapt to climate change, but they lack key capacities. Our project effectively builds capacity (SDG #16 'strong institutions') in the responsible organisations to plan sustainable land use patterns for the long-term future by understanding the costs and benefits of losing or gaining natural habitat in different places. This project aligns to our partner countries' identified goals and challenges in meeting the SDGs: e.g. Malaysia has priorities to strengthen the regulatory framework for forest management; increase capacity of related agencies; expand the use of new technology to manage natural assets; intensify reforestation efforts nationwide; Indonesian plans say development activities must not impair/degrade the carrying capacity of environment and the balance of the ecosystem, and by 2019 the government intends to rehabilitate 0.75 M ha of forest, and increase protected area coverage to 20 M ha.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Ghana 
Organisation Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST)
Country Ghana 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Scientific expertise about how species respond to habitat fragmentation, and how connected habitat networks can help species to adapt to climate change Theoretical know-how and software development expertise, whereby we adapted the Condatis software to be more useful in developing country contexts Performing a case study analysis to answer a conservation/restoration question in Ghana, after collaboratively planning the aims and objectives and gathering pre-existing data. Chairing workshops, delivering training and producing written training materials
Collaborator Contribution Data to feed into the case study analyses Venues, organisation and logistical support for project meetings Co-authorship of final case study reports Professional contacts to other relevant stakeholders
Impact TBC - grant still active
Start Year 2017
 
Description Ghana 
Organisation The Rainforest Alliance
Country United States 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Scientific expertise about how species respond to habitat fragmentation, and how connected habitat networks can help species to adapt to climate change Theoretical know-how and software development expertise, whereby we adapted the Condatis software to be more useful in developing country contexts Performing a case study analysis to answer a conservation/restoration question in Ghana, after collaboratively planning the aims and objectives and gathering pre-existing data. Chairing workshops, delivering training and producing written training materials
Collaborator Contribution Data to feed into the case study analyses Venues, organisation and logistical support for project meetings Co-authorship of final case study reports Professional contacts to other relevant stakeholders
Impact TBC - grant still active
Start Year 2017
 
Description Indonesia 
Organisation Bogor Agricultural University
Country Indonesia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Scientific expertise about how species respond to habitat fragmentation, and how connected habitat networks can help species to adapt to climate change Theoretical know-how and software development expertise, whereby we adapted the Condatis software to be more useful in developing country contexts Performing a case study analysis to answer a conservation/restoration question in Indonesia, after collaboratively planning the aims and objectives and gathering pre-existing data. Chairing workshops, delivering training and producing written training materials
Collaborator Contribution Data to feed into the case study analyses, including outputs of habitat suitability modelling Venues, organisation and logistical support for project meetings Co-authorship of final case study reports Professional contacts to other relevant stakeholders
Impact TBC - grant still active
Start Year 2017
 
Description Malaysia 
Organisation Malaysian University of Sabah
Country Malaysia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Scientific expertise about how species respond to habitat fragmentation, and how connected habitat networks can help species to adapt to climate change Theoretical know-how and software development expertise, whereby we adapted the Condatis software to be more useful in developing country contexts Performing a case study analysis to answer a conservation/restoration question in Sabah, after collaboratively planning the aims and objectives and gathering pre-existing data. Chairing workshops, delivering training and producing written training materials
Collaborator Contribution Data to feed into the case study analyses Venues, organisation and logistical support for project meetings Co-authorship of final case study reports Professional contacts to other relevant stakeholders
Impact TBC - grant still active
Start Year 2017
 
Description Malaysia 
Organisation Sabah Forestry Department
PI Contribution Scientific expertise about how species respond to habitat fragmentation, and how connected habitat networks can help species to adapt to climate change Theoretical know-how and software development expertise, whereby we adapted the Condatis software to be more useful in developing country contexts Performing a case study analysis to answer a conservation/restoration question in Sabah, after collaboratively planning the aims and objectives and gathering pre-existing data. Chairing workshops, delivering training and producing written training materials
Collaborator Contribution Data to feed into the case study analyses Venues, organisation and logistical support for project meetings Co-authorship of final case study reports Professional contacts to other relevant stakeholders
Impact TBC - grant still active
Start Year 2017
 
Description Malaysia 
Organisation South East Asia Rainforest Research Programme (SEARRP)
Country Malaysia 
Sector Multiple 
PI Contribution Scientific expertise about how species respond to habitat fragmentation, and how connected habitat networks can help species to adapt to climate change Theoretical know-how and software development expertise, whereby we adapted the Condatis software to be more useful in developing country contexts Performing a case study analysis to answer a conservation/restoration question in Sabah, after collaboratively planning the aims and objectives and gathering pre-existing data. Chairing workshops, delivering training and producing written training materials
Collaborator Contribution Data to feed into the case study analyses Venues, organisation and logistical support for project meetings Co-authorship of final case study reports Professional contacts to other relevant stakeholders
Impact TBC - grant still active
Start Year 2017
 
Title Condatis web 
Description Condatis is a decision support tool to identify the best locations for habitat creation and restoration to enhance existing habitat networks and increase connectivity across landscapes. 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact The Condatis web application was launched in September 2018. As at 12 March 2019 it has 80 registered, active users (not counting those in our research team); more than half of the users are from the ODA DAC-list countries that we partnered with in this funded project: Malaysia (13), Indonesia (28) and Ghana (4). In total, the active users have run over 800 individual analyses. The Condatis web application has several technical features to make it accessible to our target users in developing countries with basic computers intermittent internet access, and limited RAM and disk storage. Using the software is free, and the computationally demanding analyses happen on a high-performance server in Liverpool, rather than being limited by the computing resources of the user. 
URL https://webapp.condatis.org.uk/
 
Description Workshops and training in Malaysia, Indonesia and Ghana 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Our team made two visits to both Indonesia and Ghana, and one visit to Malaysia, where we held workshops with the aim of
a) collaboratively planning case studies where Condatis is used to answer a practical question about conservation management
b) bespoke training in Condatis for partners, other practitioners, and graduate students
In total these workshops had 36 participants in Indonesia, 39 participants in Ghana and 18 participants in Malaysia. The training has already led to some participants using the software without our help. Case study analyses were successfully conducted for all countries.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018