Burgman, M. & Possingham, H. P.
Population viability analysis for
conservation: the good, the bad and the undescribed.
Pages 97-112 in:
Genetics, Demography and Viability of Fragmented Populations
. Eds Young,
A.G & Clarke, G.M.
Cambridge University Press, London.
Population viability analysis for conservation:
the good, the bad and the undescribed
and Hugh Possingham
School of Botany, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, 3052.
Department of Environmental Science and Management,
The University of Adelaide, Roseworthy SA 5371.
Departments of Zoology and Mathematics,
The University of Queensland, St Lucia QLD 4072, Australia.
Population viability analysis is used in a variety of ways to solve conservation problems.
These uses are defined in part by data availability and theoretical and biological
understanding, and in part by social, regulatory and political context. The use of a PVA
in one context does not preclude or invalidate its use in another. In this paper we attempt
to discuss objectively the role of PVA in population management and conservation
planning. We emphasise its role in organising information, engaging stake-holders, and
making decisions. To be successful, some traditional views about population models and
decision-making need to be suspended and reviewed.
The use of population models in conservation biology is at a cross-roads. In the 1980’s
many believed that population viability analysis (PVA) would provide a comprehensive
framework for threatened species management. Early enthusiasm has been tempered by
problems with lack of data, lack of validation, and several studies that have demonstrated
the sensitivity of results to uncertainty in the data (Taylor 1995, Ruckelshaus et al. 1997).
More and more conservation ecologists are expressing disappointment at the inability of
PVA to provide verifiable answers, to be impregnable to misinterpretation, or to make the
work of an academic conservation ecologist any easier (Doak & Mills 1994, Beissinger &
Westphal 1998). Others who view PVA from a more applied perspective and tried to use
it to help with environmental legislation, land-use planning and making decisions about
the management of populations have also been disappointed (Hamilton & Moller 1995,
Harcourt 1995). The role of population modelling in conservation is suffering a backlash
from early over-enthusiasm and our unrealistic expectation that PVA would solve all our
single species conservation problems. The role of population modelling in conservation