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Strategic planning for biodiversity and ecosystem services: Assessing targets and actions in seabird and water conservation


Biodiversity and ecosystem function conservation face unprecedented challenges. Underfunding, incomplete policies, and backlogged assessments hinder conservation planning (Myers et al., 2000; James et al., 1999). In this dissertation, I seek to develop data-driven methods to inform strategic conservation of water and seabirds. Fresh water shortages threaten ecosystem function and human health (Georgakakos et al., 2014; Jiménez Cisneros et al., 2015). In Chapter 2, I addressed effective water conservation by consumers across the contiguous United States. I determined county-level water stress by relating annual water withdrawal to availability. I adjusted water stress by the potential savings from full adoption of common domestic water conservation actions, such as installing low-flow showerheads. I projected that, during a drought year, the majority of counties would remain water-stressed despite savings. Further, I identified the agriculture sector as the most common dominant water user, suggesting that meaningful consumer water savings should reduce dietary water use. Biodiversity loss is threatened with an average population decline of 68% for assessed species since 1970 (Almond et al., 2020). A foundational step in conservation is determining species’ relative extinction risk. In Chapter 3 I applied a metapopulation viability analysis (mPVA), engineered in partnership with the Conservation Action Lab and Tim Tinker, to 99 threatened seabird species. I indexed species by relative extinction risk and identified extremely threatened species. I compared the mPVA projections with IUCN Red List threat statuses to identify species that should be prioritized for reassessment and to inform resource allocations. After species have been targeted and prior to implementation, interventions should be evaluated for potential benefit. In Chapter 4 I used the mPVA to analyze the prescribed actions in New Zealand’s national recovery plan for 27 threatened seabird species. I simulated common conservation actions, such as translocation and invasive species removals, at the breeding population level and compared this to status quo scenarios. I found that the majority of species were not predicted to significantly benefit from prescribed interventions. This dissertation guides effective conservation planning by demonstrating means to assess current risk and project the benefits of conservation actions.

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