The future of biodiversity conservation in farming landscapes in south-eastern Australia

Project: Research

Project participants


Ongoing expansion and intensification of agriculture are leading causes of biodiversity loss worldwide, and efforts to conserve biodiversity in farming landscapes often conflict with agricultural land use. Especially in locations threatened by agricultural change, there is an urgent need to identify trajectories of sustainable land use, before irreparable losses of biodiversity occur. How to best harmonize farming with biodiversity conservation is subject to extensive debate. In particular, the paradigms of sustainable intensification and land sparing/land sparing have been put forward as possible solutions. However, these have been criticised for providing incomplete solutions to a highly complex problem by narrowly focussing on food production and ignoring wider societal issues. To overcome these limitations, here I propose a project that will apply a systems thinking approach to integrate different perspectives and embrace critical uncertainties and complexities of human-environment interactions. The main goal of the project is to harmonise conflicting priorities for land use in farming landscapes. In particular, the method of scenario planning will be employed to solve complex planning issues in the face of uncertainty. When applied in close collaboration with non-academic actors, scenario planning can foster communication and joint problem solving. For this study I hypothesize that different, conflicting land use priorities can be identified for a given area and that scenario planning can help to reconcile these priorities. In order to address my research question, I strategically selected a case study area in south-eastern Australia, which ideally represents typical features of intensive farming landscapes in the world. Moreover, it is internationally recognized as an endangered ecoregion – its natural vegetation has been largely lost, and the conflicting goals of economically viable farming and the preservation of native biodiversity are prominent issues. The proposed project is structured in three parts. First, I will identify different and potentially conflicting priorities for future land use in the study area. This includes mapping of relevant stakeholders and performing a Q-study to identify different perceptions of priorities. Second, I will develop future scenarios for social-ecological development with local and regional stakeholders. Through participatory planning workshops I will identify the main drivers of change and their uncertainties, to then develop the scenario logic and narratives. Third, I will analyse the implications of the scenarios, and identify opportunities to harmonise conflicting priorities through a questionnaire tool and a second round of stakeholder workshops. Finally, I will conduct two academic workshops to synthesize the role of scenario planning in biodiversity conservation in farming landscapes, involving academic experts from Europe and Australia in order to generalize the findings from this study.