Box 1 Melding ecological principles with urban planning

At the time of the first European settlement in Australia, lowland areas of southeastern Australia had one of the largest areas of native temperate grassland in the world. These grasslands are now among the most endangered natural communities in Australia (Figure 1). The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) contains about 5% of the high-quality primary native grassland that occurred in the ACT prior to European settlement, home to a number of threatened animal species, including the legless lizard Delma impar, the mouthless moth Synemon plana, and the matchstick grasshopper Keyacris scurra. The expanding Australian capital city, Canberra, is placing continual and increasing pressure on these grasslands and presents city planners with the very great challenge of melding grassland conservation with the relentless expansion of suburban and rural urban development.

Planning for suburban development is a complex process, and planning decisions are made throughout the construction phase. Ecological theory is not in a form that can be used by urban planners, who continually need to assess the costs versus the benefits of planning decisions. Too often the cost-benefit analysis is driven entirely by financial considerations.

Applied ecologists were given the challenge of devising a set of principles that would govern the type and quality of ecological information brought to the planning process and that would enable planners to assess alternatives in the context of both financial and ecological considerations. The principles they devised are as follows.

1. Both regional and local objectives are required for conservation planning on the local scale.

2. Both species and functional communities need to be considered.

3. Knowledge of key life-history properties of species and dynamic processes within the ecological communities is essential for sound conservation planning.

4. Spatial scale is important when assessing the value of published knowledge of species and communities.

5. Common as well as rare species have a bearing on conservation planning.

6. The quality of available data and therefore its value to conservation planning, varies depending on its taxonomic and spatial resolution, seasonal biases, and temporal representation.

7. Areas considered for conservation should be those of the highest value for meeting local, regional, and national objectives.

8. Conservation value includes concepts of size (viability), diversity, representativeness, distinctiveness (rarity), and naturalness.

9. Diversity. Conservation areas that possess greater heterogeneity of environmental attributes (floristics, vegetation structure, abiotic components), within the bounds of those conditions known to support lowland grassland communities, are better than those that are largely homogeneous.

10. Size. Larger contiguous conservation zones are superior to smaller zones, or zones of equivalent size that are fragmented, all other considerations being equal.

11. Shape. Conservation zones that have a large area to perimeter ratio are better than those that are irregular in shape, elongated, or whose boundaries project into suboptimal habitat.

12. Replication of conservation areas in fragmented habitats is necessary as a hedge against catastrophic or stochastic local extinction.

13. Regional conservation planning based on remnants must consider the constraints and opportunities provided by the present and future land-use patterns.

14. Rehabilitation of fragmented habitats should be considered as a means of increasing overall size, buffering, and interconnection.

15. Integration of smaller systems within broader conservation systems increases their conservation value.

16. Consider alternative reserve structures in the light of constraints and opportunities provided by planned development.

17. Conservation zones are not isolated from external influences and careful consideration needs to be given to compatible adjacent land uses, and moderation of their impacts.

18. Include research-based management, monitoring and community participation.

Application of these principles led to the establishment of a series of outstanding urban native grassland reserves in the ACT, reserves that were established as an integral part of the planning and development of the new Gungahlin suburbs. For the applied ecologist, the exercise was communication of ecological principles in a form that could be readily adopted in the planning process, and engagement with planners in bringing about solutions to the challenges of conservation in an urban setting.

for accessing, evaluating, and adopting the results of research presented through formal scientific channels. This in turn can limit the information available to them at the time of making important decisions. Often, decisions are made on a very small base of available information and a limited network of trusted advisers. Many of the larger research organizations address the issue of broadening the base of information available to managers through the appointment of knowledge brokers - individuals employed and often placed within the natural resource agency whose sole responsibility is to broker exchange of management needs in one direction and ecological information in the other direction between managers and scientists, and to assist in providing that information in a useful form. Knowledge brokers and professional science communicators are also engaged to communicate the outcomes of science to the broader public through the media (television, radio, newspapers), community meetings, and websites of ecological associations. Knowledge brokers must have both scientific understanding and communication skills.

A third challenge is to bring ecologists, industry, and management together to build relationships, identify synergies, and achieve broad and lasting ownership over solutions to environmental problems. This is being addressed by governments in many developed countries by providing monetary incentives for science and industry to work together, placing conditions on industry and community participation in government-funded research, and establishing substantial cooperative research entities that bring industry, community groups, and researchers together in well-funded joint ventures. This has changed the face of 'applied ecology', providing many more opportunities for ecologists to engage in research and application of immediate relevance to the economy and society.

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