Research

My research falls broadly within environmental policy, governance and economics, with a particular focus on biodiversity conservation and natural resource management. I am an interdisciplinary researcher, and draw on both quantitative and qualitative methods used in the natural and social sciences. The overarching goal of my research is to get better outcomes for the environment and society through an understanding of the policy process: design, implementation and evaluation.

I am currently working as part of the National Environmental Science Programme – Threatened Species Recovery Hub (NESP TSR), where I am investigating cost effective and innovative biodiversity offsetting approaches for Australian threatened species.

Doing but not knowing? The case for evaluation of biodiversity offsetting policies

Much of the research into biodiversity offsetting has been focused on refining offset metrics, such that they better capture the biodiversity values being impacted and requiring compensation. However, arguably a more important issue is the frequent lack of ex post evaluation of biodiversity offsetting – that is, has the policy met its ‘no net loss’ objective? Lack of evaluation is a serious issue throughout the environmental sector, but I would argue it is a particular problem for biodiversity offsetting – given its rapid uptake, many uncertainties, and the promise of environmental benefits in the future in exchange for impacts now.  A key focus of my PhD research is to gain an understanding of what the key barriers and enablers are to achieving effective, efficient and equitable biodiversity offset policy.

Blog posts:

Evaluating the effectiveness of native vegetation legislative controls in Australia

Deforestation remains the number one driver of biodiversity loss and environmental degradation worldwide. All states in Australia have, at various times, implemented vegetation clearing regulations in an effort to control the rate of deforestation. However, more recently we have seen these regulations being gradually relaxed, with the perceived complexity, financial burden of compliance and limited environmental benefit often cited as reasons for this shift. Yet there’s actually little research being undertaken that could either support or refute these arguments.  I am working with Grace ChiuPhil Gibbons and Andrew Macintosh, to try and determine what impact vegetation clearing regulations has had on the rate of deforestation in Australia, separate from economic and climatic variables, by analysing the change in forest cover across the Australian continent for the years 1972-2014.

Blog articles:

Papers:

Biodiversity offset policy development

Biodiversity offsetting is an increasingly popular means of compensating for environmental impacts caused by human development. However, properly accounting for the type, amount and timing of these impacts on biodiversity remains a major challenge. I have worked with Martine MaronPhil Gibbons and Hugh Possingham to develop a simple yet robust offsetting metric, which has provided the foundation for the Australian Government’s environmental offsetting policy.

Blog articles:

Papers:

  • Maron M, Ives CD, Kujula H, Bull JW, Maseyk F, Bekessy S, Gordon A, Watson JEM, Lentini P, Gibbons P, Possingham HP, Hobbs RJ, Keith DA, Wintle BA, Evans MC. 2016. Taming a wicked problem: resolving controversies in biodiversity offsetting. BioScience. doi: 10.1093/biosci/biw038 
  • Miller K, Dripps K, Trezise J, Kraus S, Evans MC, Gibbons P, Possingham HP,  Maron M. 2015. The Development of the Australian Environmental Offsets Policy: from Theory to Practice. Environmental Conservation. 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S037689291400040X
  • Maron, M., Bull, J.W., Evans, M.C., Gordon, A., 2015. Locking in loss: baselines of decline in Australian biodiversity offset policies. Biological Conservation (upcoming themed issue). http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2015.05.017

Biodiversity and environmental markets: Synergies and trade-offs

There’s been a lot of interest in understanding how biodiversity co-benefits could be leveraged from the carbon market. Much of the research so far has focused on the economic viability of farm forestry and environmental plantings in agricultural landscapes, but little attention has been paid to the potential benefits of human-assisted restoration of vegetation in landscapes which still retain regenerative capacity. Myself and others (including Tara Martin and Josie Carwardine from CSIRO) examined the economic viability of two carbon farming methodologies: direct planting of trees (environmental plantings) and human-assisted restoration (regrowth management), using Queensland, Australia as a case study. We found that regrowth management was always the more cost-effective option where it was possible, but uncertainties surrounding project costs and strict rules around permanence may result in a missed opportunity for biodiversity and the climate.

Blog articles:

Papers

  • Evans, M.C., Carwardine, J., Fensham, R.J., Butler, D., Wilson, K.A., Possingham, H.P., Martin, T.G., 2015. Carbon farming in agricultural landscapes: assisted natural regeneration as a viable mechanism for restoring biodiversity and ecosystem services. Environmental Science & Policy 50: 114-129.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.envsci.2015.02.003