Walsh et al. (2012) emphasized the importance of obtaining evidence to assess the effects of management actions on state variables relevant to objectives of conservation programs. They focused on malleefowl Leipoa ocellata, ground-dwelling Australian megapodes listed as vulnerable. They noted that although fox Vulpes vulpes baiting is the main management action used in malleefowl conservation throughout southern Australia, evidence of the effectiveness of this action is limited and currently debated. Walsh et al. (2012) then used data from 64 sites monitored for malleefowl and foxes over 23 years to assess key functional relationships relevant to fox control as a conservation action for malleefowl. In one set of analyses, Walsh et al. (2012) focused on two relationships: fox baiting investment versus fox presence, and fox presence versus malleefowl population size and rate of population change. Results led to the counterintuitive conclusion that increases in investments in fox control produced slight decreases in malleefowl population size and growth. In a second set of analyses, Walsh et al. (2012) directly assessed the relationship between investment in fox baiting and malleefowl population size and rate of population change. This set of analyses showed no significant relationship between investment in fox population control and malleefowl population growth. Both sets of analyses benefited from the incorporation of key environmental covariates hypothesized to influence these management relationships. Walsh et al. (2012) concluded that "in most situations, malleefowl conservation did not effectively benefit from fox baiting at current levels of investment." In this commentary, I discuss the work of Walsh et al. (2012) using the conceptual framework of structured decision making (SDM). In doing so, I accept their analytic results and associated conclusions as accurate and discuss basic ideas about evidence, conservation and limits to management.
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Evidence, models, conservation programs and limits to management