Synergies and Feedbacks Between Local Direct Democracy and Large-Scale Biodiversity Conservation Efforts

In much of the U.S., natural communities of native species remain largely within protected areas. The maintenance of biodiversity thus relies on how strongly native wildlife communities motivate conservation and on how effectively conservation protects wild communities. This project explores two major alternative mechanisms for this coupling between nature and society, the purchase of lands or rights by conservation organizations and legislation through ballot initiatives. Researchers will compare abundances of rare or threatened native plant species and abundances of introduced plants that tend to exclude native species in areas conserved through these different mechanisms. The study will also investigate the factors that determine whether different types of conservation actions are undertaken. The project will use California as the study system, since both mechanisms have been widely employed in the state, and a rich body of data is available. Results will inform conservation policy and help guide future protection of native species in and beyond California. Dissemination of findings will be enhanced by integration of the study with a program to bring conservation practitioners into classrooms and public forums. The project will also train undergraduate students, a Ph.D. student, and a postdoctoral researcher.

This project will examine how local landscape, community and ballot characteristics influence the probability of passage of conservation measures. Researchers will also evaluate the potential ancillary benefits of public initiatives in helping to safeguard biodiversity by protecting habitats that are important for priority species and by protecting priority ecosystems through a combination of GIS analyses and ecological field surveys. The project will contrast the contribution to conserving biodiversity of parcels protected through ballot measures with those protected through a more conventional protected area acquisition strategy. Finally, researchers will apply spatial optimization methods to evaluate how land conservation efforts undertaken by large-scale actors can complement those of local-scale actors more effectively in the future.

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