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Optimal guerilla conservation

Science and Engineering Faculty student topic

Study level

Master of Philosophy

Honours

Faculty/Lead unit

Science and Engineering Faculty

School of Mathematical Sciences

Topic status

We're looking for students to study this topic.

Supervisors

Associate Professor Michael Bode
Position
Associate Professor
Division / Faculty
Science and Engineering Faculty

Overview

Guerilla conservation is the use of illegal activities to positively or negatively alter a region’s biodiversity. Famous examples include the “direct action” activities of Sea Shepherd (e.g., damaging whaling vessels), or the practice of “tree spiking” that was common in the forest wars in the temperate rainforests of Tasmania and the Pacific Northwest in the USA.

In recent years, guerilla conservation actors have attempted to achieve their aims by releasing new species into ecosystems. Examples include the release of foxes into Tasmania, and the release of rabbit calicivirus onto mainland Australia (although as a result of their illegal nature, the history behind these events are often uncertain).

Guerilla conservation activities have clear conservation goals, and actors must choose between a set of actions to achieve them. Their decisions can therefore be understood through the use of mathematical modelling and optimisation techniques.

Research activities

This project will undertake the first mathematical analysis of guerilla conservation activities. Drawing on broader anti-terrorism approaches, we will identify locations in a landscape that offer the best outcomes for a particular guerilla conservation action – the release of an introduced species into an environment.

We will also determine optimal enforcement actions to counter these actions.

The project will focus on the illegal release of the highly endangered Tasmanian devil onto the Australian mainland.

Outcomes

The project will determine the optimal locations on the Australian mainland for guerilla conservationists to release the Tasmanian devil.

This location will optimise the dual guerilla objectives of:

  1. creating a self-sustaining population of devils on the Australian mainland, free from Devil Facial Tumour Disease, and 
  2. ensuring that this population is not noticed by relevant authorities until it is too large for eradication actions to be successful.

The project will then determine the optimal surveillance response to this threat by the Australian biosecurity and conservation authorities. That is, where and when would these authorities search for such a guerilla conservation action.

Skills and experience

The project has a number of key elements, which will require a range of mathematical and ecological skills. These are:

  1. Spatial statistical modelling: A new species can only be released into suitable habitat (e.g., frogs should generally not be released into deserts). Spatial statistics will be used to map suitable Tasmanian devil habitat across the mainland.
  2. Dynamical modelling in space: Following introduction, the spread and abundance of the devils across the mainland will be simulated using spatial spread models. At the same time, surveillance efforts (passive and active) by the public and relevant authorities will be modelled in space. The result will be predictions of (a) how many devils will exist in the landscape, (b) over what area, and (c) the probability of the devil population being discovered.
  3. Game theory: Guerilla conservationists and authorities are playing a zero-sum game. The undetected release of a new species into the landscape results in success for the guerilla conservationists, and failure for the authorities. The identification and eradication of an introduction in its early stages will be a win for the authorities and a loss for the guerilla conservationists. Game theory will therefore be essential for determining the optimal strategies of these opponents.

Keywords

Contact

Contact the supervisor for more information.