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Prioritizing global conservation efforts

Naturevolume 440pages337340 (2006) | Download Citation



One of the most pressing issues facing the global conservation community is how to distribute limited resources between regions identified as priorities for biodiversity conservation1,2,3. Approaches such as biodiversity hotspots4, endemic bird areas5 and ecoregions6 are used by international organizations to prioritize conservation efforts globally7. Although identifying priority regions is an important first step in solving this problem, it does not indicate how limited resources should be allocated between regions. Here we formulate how to allocate optimally conservation resources between regions identified as priorities for conservation—the ‘conservation resource allocation problem’. Stochastic dynamic programming is used to find the optimal schedule of resource allocation for small problems but is intractable for large problems owing to the “curse of dimensionality”8. We identify two easy-to-use and easy-to-interpret heuristics that closely approximate the optimal solution. We also show the importance of both correctly formulating the problem and using information on how investment returns change through time. Our conservation resource allocation approach can be applied at any spatial scale. We demonstrate the approach with an example of optimal resource allocation among five priority regions in Wallacea and Sundaland, the transition zone between Asia and Australasia.

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We thank C. Elkin, T. Martin and E. Game for comments on the manuscript; and P. Kareiva, S. Polasky, R. L. Pressey, S. Andelman and B. Murdoch for discussions. The work was supported by The University of Queensland and grants from the Australian Research Council (to H.P.P, M. A. McCarthy and R. L. Pressey).

Author information


  1. The Ecology Centre, Schools of Integrative Biology and Physical Sciences, The University of Queensland, Queensland, 4072, Brisbane, Australia

    • Kerrie A. Wilson
    • , Marissa F. McBride
    • , Michael Bode
    •  & Hugh P. Possingham


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Competing interests

Reprints and permissions information is available at npg.nature.com/reprintsandpermissions. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Kerrie A. Wilson or Hugh P. Possingham.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Table

    The sources of data for each priority region. (DOC 24 kb)

  2. Supplementary Methods

    This file contains the supplementary methods. (PDF 159 kb)

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