Connectivity conservation: an exploration of practitioners' experiences in Australia

Cecile van der Burgh

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

    358 Downloads (Pure)


    Habitat loss and fragmentation have resulted in the decline of biodiversity worldwide, where remaining wildlife populations are threatened by isolation, and the modifying effects of human use of landscapes. Global climate change is predicted to interact with these impacts and further challenge species as they are forced to locally adapt or shift their habitat ranges. To maintain healthy biotic wildlife populations, regional- and continental scale connectivity initiatives have commenced worldwide as a key management response to counter the pervasive effects of habitat fragmentation and climate change. Australia is no exception, where many such connectivity initiatives have been established in the past fifteen years.

    Whilst there is an extensive academic ecological literature on defining and prioritising connectivity in landscapes, detailed empirical studies researching how connectivity is defined and operationalised by practitioners working within connectivity initiatives are largely lacking. Similarly, few studies have explored the challenges and enablers experienced by practitioners working to operationalise connectivity in landscapes. Finally, several authors have argued that connectivity conservation is representing a paradigm shift in Natural Resource Management (NRM) but the actual on-ground differences with other existing NRM practise is not widely studied. The research presented in this thesis explores these broad facets of connectivity conservation practise by learning from practitioners’ insights and experiences.

    The research is built on two studies. The first study employs a qualitative research approach, using semi-structured, in-depth interviews, to explore the experiences of twenty-two key practitioners involved across fifteen large-scale, collaborative connectivity initiatives in Australia. The second study employs a novel mixed-methods survey approach to explore how sixty-eight experts prioritise landscape areas for connectivity in a focal landscape using limited information.

    The results of the studies demonstrate that the definition of connectivity changes with context and identifies some of the key variables that are considered as important by experts in their prioritisations of connectivity in focal landscapes. The research also demonstrates that the way connectivity is defined and prioritised varies significantly with the information presented to experts. Lastly, the study highlights some of the implicit assumptions and values experts bring into their decision-making and differences in approaches between different types of experts.

    Interviews with practitioners demonstrate that the operationalisation of connectivity within large-scale connectivity initiatives (as opposed to focal landscapes) does not consist of one simple linear, structured operationalisation process but rather a series of complimentary decision-processes. The study also shows that both the operationalisation of connectivity and subsequent identification of actions to maintain or restore connectivity are affected by a much broader range of factors than identified within the ecological literature, encompassing many socio-institutional and practical factors. These key barriers and enablers include capacity issues, funding issues, key people and leadership, social and institutional connectivity, governance arrangements, trust and informal relationships and landholder needs and preferences.

    Finally, this thesis places connectivity conservation in a broader Australian NRM context and explores some of the key similarities and differences with government-funded NRM programs. Connectivity conservation is identified as a community-led, collaborative new governance approach that is bringing together practitioners, scientists and landholders across tenures and sectors. The visionary, large-scale, long-term nature of connectivity initiatives form a important complimentary approach to government funded NRM programs.

    The findings presented in this thesis make a contribution to the academic body of work regarding the practise of connectivity conservation specifically and to collaborative, large-scale conservation planning and new governance NRM approaches more generally. The thesis contributes to efforts to expand interdisciplinary and social science contributions to conservation science and practise and demonstrates the importance of social factors in planning and implementation processes. The findings discussed in this thesis provide some pointers to inform both the practise and policy development around large-scale, collaborative conservation initiatives, so that both key individuals and networks of practitioners, scientists, landholders and organisations driving these initiatives can be better supported. Ultimately, I hope the insights presented in this thesis will contribute to the better protection and restoration of wildlife populations and natural processes in landscapes for the long-term benefit of all.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Charles Sturt University
    • Allan, Catherine, Principal Supervisor
    Award date17 Nov 2017
    Publication statusPublished - 2017


    Dive into the research topics of 'Connectivity conservation: an exploration of practitioners' experiences in Australia'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this