Conservation decisions are challenging, not only because they often involve difficult conflicts among outcomes that people value, but because our understanding of the natural world and our effects on it is fraught with uncertainty. Value of Information (VoI) methods provide an approach for understanding and managing uncertainty from the standpoint of the decision maker. These methods are commonly used in other fields (e.g., economics, public health) and are increasingly used in biodiversity conservation. This decision analytical approach can identify the best management alternative to select where the effectiveness of interventions is uncertain, and can help to decide when to act and when to delay action until after further research. We review the use of VoI in the environmental domain, reflect on the need for greater uptake of VoI, particularly for strategic conservation planning, and suggest promising areas for new research. We also suggest common reporting standards as a means of increasing the leverage of this powerful tool.
The environmental science, ecology and biodiversity categories of the Web of Knowledge were searched using the terms ‘Value of Information,’ ‘Expected Value of Perfect Information,’ and the abbreviation ‘EVPI.’ Google Scholar was searched with the same terms, and additionally the terms decision and biology, biodiversity conservation, fish, or ecology. We identified 1225 papers from these searches. Included studies were limited to those that show an application of VoI in biodiversity conservation rather than simply describing the method. All examples of use of VOI were summarised regarding the application of VoI, the management objectives, the uncertainties, models used, how the objectives were measured, and the type of VoI.
While the use of VoI appears to be on the increase in biodiversity conservation, the reporting of results is highly variable, which can make it difficult to understand the decision context and which uncertainties were considered. Moreover, it was unclear if, and how, the papers informed management and policy interventions, which is why we suggest a range of reporting standards that would aid the use of VoI.
The use of VoI in conservation settings is at an early stage. There are opportunities for broader applications, not only for species-focussed management problems, but also for setting local or global research priorities for biodiversity conservation, making funding decisions, or designing or improving protected area networks and management. The long-term benefits of applying VoI methods to biodiversity conservation include a more structured and decision-focused allocation of resources to research.