How much is new information worth? Evaluating the ﬁnancial beneﬁt of resolving management uncertainty
Sean L. Maxwell1,2*, Jonathan R. Rhodes1,2,3, Michael C. Runge4, Hugh P. Possingham1,3,5,6, Chooi Fei Ng1,6,7 and Eve McDonald-Madden1,2,7
1ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Qld 4072, Australia
2School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Qld 4072, Australia
3NERP Environmental Decisions Hub, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Qld 4072, Australia
4US Geological Survey, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, 12100 Beech Forest Road, Laurel, MD 20708, USA
5Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College London, Silwood Park, Ascot SL5 7PY Berkshire, UK
6School of Mathematics and Physics, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Qld 4072, Australia
7CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences, Brisbane, Qld 4102, Australia
Conservation decision-makers face a trade-off between spending limited funds on direct management action, or gaining new information in an attempt to improve management performance in the future. Value-of-information analysis can help to resolve this trade-off by evaluating how much management performance could improve if new information was gained. Value-of-information analysis has been used extensively in other disciplines, but there are only a few examples where it has informed conservation planning, none of which have used it to evaluate the ﬁnancial value of gaining new information.
We address this gap by applying value-of-information analysis to the management of a declining koala Phascolarctos cinereus population. Decision-makers responsible for managing this population face uncertainty about survival and fecundity rates, and how habitat cover affects mortality threats. The value of gaining new information about these uncertainties was calculated using a deterministic matrix model of the koala population to ﬁnd the expected population growth rate if koala mortality threats were optimally managed under alternative model hypotheses, which represented the uncertainties faced by koala managers.
Gaining new information about survival and fecundity rates and the effect of habitat cover on mortality threats will do little to improve koala management. Across a range of management budgets, no more than 1.7% of the budget should be spent on resolving these uncertainties.
The value of information was low because optimal management decisions were not sensitive to the uncertainties we considered. Decisions were instead driven by a substantial difference in the cost efﬁciency of management actions. The value of information was up to forty times higher when the cost efﬁciencies of different koala management actions were similar.
Synthesis and applications. This study evaluates the ecological and ﬁnancial beneﬁts of gaining new information to inform a conservation problem. We also theoretically demonstrate that the value of reducing uncertainty is highest when it is not clear which management action is the most cost efﬁcient. This study will help expand the use of value-of-information analyses in conservation by providing a cost efﬁciency metric by which to evaluate research or monitoring.
Key-words: action, budget, conservation, cost efﬁciency, decision, koala, Phascolarctos cinereus, Queensland, strategy, value-of-information analysis