Casting Biodiversity Conservation as a Budget Allocation Problem

Abstract: Limited resources produce a repeated conundrum for agencies responsible for biodiversity conservation: should limited funding be used primarily to prevent imminent extinction, or should funds be allocated to maximize species recovery over the long term? A contentious discussion of values has stemmed from this question: some argue that the latter strategy is ethically unsound, because it may abandon species with little hope of long-term recovery, while others note that the former strategy may myopically miss opportunities to prevent species from ever experiencing the risk of imminent extinction.  A structured, logical, and transparent approach to allocating limited resources among recovery programs to evaluate the relative achievements of the multiple objectives of recovery funding is urgently needed. As part of a recent working group supported by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, we worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a tool to compare different funding allocation strategies for recovery actions. 

The Recovery Explorer tool, a prototype which has just been released (, can be used to evaluate potential consequences of alternative resource allocation strategies.  Structured decision making facilitates discussion about alternative approaches to resource allocation by making the important components of the decision process transparent. Our approach allows funding agencies and conservation partners to evaluate the effects of increasing or decreasing investment in species recovery. 

Biography: Leah Gerber is a Professor of Conservation Science in the School of Life Sciences and Founding Director of the Center for Biodiversity Outcomes at Arizona State University.  By training, Gerber a population ecologist and marine conservation biologist who is motivated by a desire to integrate insights from natural and social sciences into tenable decision tools and policy. 

Gerber’s empirically-based research program spans many dimensions of natural and social sciences, with the goal to inform policies for sustaining the health of the world’s oceans.  With a grounding in natural history and primary data collection, quantitative methods and an appreciation for the interactions between humans and the environment, Gerber has pioneered new approaches in protected area design, risk assessment, adaptive management and structured decision making. This work includes over 100 publications in high quality journals (e.g., Science, Nature, PNAS, American Scientist and Ecology Letters). 

Gerber has garnered a broad base of research funding to support this work, including a National Science Foundation (NSF)-Career Award and an award from the Pew Charitable Trusts.  As an Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellow, Gerber is passionately committed to communicating the relevance of science in tackling the complex environmental challenges of the 21st century.  The impact of her work extends beyond scientific impact factors – she is most proud of her work that has been used in policy decisions and has stimulated public discourse in popular media. 

In 2014, Gerber established ASU’s Center for Biodiversity Outcomes, a boundary organization to enable discoveries and solutions needed to conserve and sustainably manage the Earth’s biodiversity in a time of rapid biophysical, institutional, and cultural change. In leading the center, she has built capacity in academic excellence and established new models for academic engagement in achieving societal outcomes. Because this leadership experiment is pushing the frontier of the unknown, Gerber is pioneering new models of engagement as part of the NSF Science of Science and Innovation Policy program.

Dr. Gerber is currently a Fulbright Fellow with Universidad San Francisco de Quito and a Professor in Residence with Conservation International in Ecuador.