The science of biodiversity outcomes
To accelerate the success of biodiversity management and sustainable biodiversity outcomes, we are studying the individual and institutional attributes that lead to successful biodiversity outcomes. In collaboration with Samantha Cheng and Derrick Anderson, as well as with support from the National Science Foundation’s Science of Science and Innovation Policy program, known as SciSIP, we are studying information exchange between research labs and public decision makers. This work seeks to understand what types of scientific strategies and organizational structures best translate conservation science research into useful, socially beneficial outcomes. For example, we are examining the center’s knowledge partnerships with Conservation International, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to understand and develop new models of engagement based on our experimental learning. This research has broad applications within the conservation and wider public policy space. Perhaps most importantly, it will serve as a model for other collaborative efforts bridging scientific research to public action.
Nature’s role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals
The United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, bring environmental, social and economic objectives together into a consistent structure, recognizing the close connections between environment and development. However, the role of natural capital in achieving the SDGs is both poorly articulated and almost entirely unquantified. In collaboration with Krista Kemppinen and David Hole, we am developing the conceptual underpinnings for defining the ‘natural capital component’ of relevant goals. This work includes quantifying the role of nature in achieving a selection of the goals and their underlying targets, at the global scale, complemented by appropriate national scale case studies. This approach will permit the exploration of inevitable trade-offs between goals and targets as they interact over space and time, in order to assess sustainability through 2030 and beyond. This work intersects with Gerber’s role as coordinating lead author for the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, known as IPBES, and will be critical for informing nationalization of the SDGs.
The business case for biodiversity
The corporate sector has shown an increasing commitment to considering sustainability issues over the past decade. The current political climate herald a change in traditional forms of regulation, as environmental policies are rolled back and funding decreased. At the same time, regulatory drivers such as the Sustainable Development Goals and The Paris Agreement push businesses to innovate and change in the face of future legislation. Both of these realities presents heightened opportunity for businesses to continue to develop their own forms of private environmental governance, integrating sustainability goals across production, operations and financial investment. This works includes evidence mapping to synthesize and analyze data to help companies make the best decisions they can in their own biodiversity management plans. We are developing a biodiversity data hub, which is a central virtual place where global biodiversity information is stored, processed, compared and used to help decision-makers conveniently and effectively consider biodiversity in business, governance and management decisions. We also collaborate with The Earth Genome on a tool to help corporate decision-makers to see options for both biodiversity and sustainable water use biodiversity decision-making into the tool.
Uncertainty and structured ecological decision-making
Our interest in developing novel decision-theoretic approaches to environmental problem solving is motivated by a desire to bring the best available data to policy contexts. In fisheries biology, for example, many stock managers want simple, certain answers about fish abundance, but population biologists study complexity and uncertainty. When biologists and policy makers understand each other better, however, it becomes clear that uncertainty is a natural part of many biological systems and that uncertainty is not the same as knowing nothing. More importantly, direct dialogue between scientists and policy makers can allow for uncertainty to be directly and meaningfully incorporated into our decision-making processes. Using big data and cutting edge visualization offered by ASU Decision Theatre, we work across several contexts in developing general decision tools that incorporate scientific uncertainty into environmental decision-making.
Endangered species recovery
Protection of species under the Endangered Species Act is a challenging and often controversial task that requires input from a variety of environmental, economic, social, and political interests. The US Fish and Wildlife Service, responsible for recovery of most listed species, is faced with an increasing workload and decreasing resources. In light of an increasing list of imperiled species requiring evaluation and protection, we are working with FWS to identify new ways to prioritize conservation actions that can be applied consistently across species and to efficiently allocate recovery funds.
We are developing novel solutions to the conservation of marine megafauna. One example is the potential application of conservation markets to marine megavertebrates. Such an approach may offer a way forward in the current gridlock in International Whaling Commission policy-making: Whaling quotas that could be bought and sold. Because conservationists could bid for whale shares, whalers could profit from whales even without harvesting them. In this way a market would open the door to sustainable whaling and harvest reduction. In coming years we will examine the many biological and economic complexities associated with a whale conservation market. In addition to our work on marine megavertebrates, we are also exploring novel models to reduce wildlife trafficking on a global scale.
Sustainable fisheries and human wellbeing
Public attention has recently focused on environmental contaminants that have been introduced into the world’s oceans, which may be toxic to seafood consumers. In contrast, nutrients in fish have been increasingly identified as having public health benefits. Our group is studying associations between sustainability and human health-oriented seafood rankings. This work includes an analysis of the ecological and health consequences of alternative sources of protein (i.e., poultry, beef). Initial data indicates remarkable consistency in sustainability and human-health seafood rankings, such that seafood items that are relatively low in mercury are also more sustainable. We continue to build our work on environmental contaminants (e.g., flame retardants, microplastics) and fisheries sustainability.