CIE Spotlight: Cost and feasibility of a barrier to halt the spread of invasive cane toads in arid Australia: incorporating expert knowledge into model-based decision-making

Emily N.

Authors: Darren Southwell, Reid Tingley, Michael Bode, Emily Nicholson, Ben L. Phillips

Source: JOURNAL OF APPLIED ECOLOGY, 54 (1):216-224, FEB 2017

Brief summary of the paper: Active engagement with practitioners is a crucial component of model-based decision-making in conservation management; it can assist with data acquisition, improve models and help narrow the ‘knowing–doing’ gap.

We worked with practitioners of one of the worst invasive species in Australia, the cane toad Rhinella marina, to revise a model that estimates the effectiveness of landscape barriers to contain spread. The original model predicted that the invasion could be contained by managing artificial watering points on pastoral properties, but was initially met with scepticism by practitioners, in part due to a lack of engagement during model development.

We held a workshop with practitioners and experts in cane toad biology. Using structured decision-making, we elicited concerns about the original model, revised its structure, updated relevant input data, added an economic component and found the most cost-effective location for a barrier across a range of fixed budgets and management scenarios. We then conducted scenario analyses to test the sensitivity of management decisions to model revisions.

We found that toad spread could be contained for all of the scenarios tested. Our modelling suggests a barrier could cost $4·5 M (2015 AUD) over 50 years for the most likely landscape scenario. The incorporation of practitioner knowledge into the model was crucial. As well as improving engagement, when we incorporated practitioner concerns (particularly regarding the effects of irrigation and dwellings on toad spread), we found a different location for the optimal barrier compared to a previously published study (Tingley et al. 2013).

Synthesis and applications: Through engagement with practitioners, we turned an academic modelling exercise into a decision-support tool that integrated local information, and considered more realistic scenarios and constraints. Active engagement with practitioners led to productive revisions of a model that estimates the effectiveness of a landscape barrier to contain spread of the invasive cane toad R. marina. Benefits also include greater confidence in model predictions, improving our assessment of the cost and feasibility of containing the spread of toads.