Despite substantial amounts expended and the efforts of numerous players, the rate of biodiversity loss is not slowing and Australia’s threatened birds are declining faster than global rates with 17% of Australia’s bird species requiring conservation action. Conservation interventions are the result of human decision-making processes and require changes in human behaviour, both individual and collective, to succeed. Institutional analysis disentangles all these elements to facilitate an improved understanding of these influences. In this thesis, I analyse the institutional arrangements established for the management of Australia’s threatened birds to determine their effectiveness and efficiency.
I employ both quantitative and qualitative methods to examine the institutions and how they influence outcomes for threatened birds. In Chapter 1, I define the term institution and describe an established framework that I employ to analyse the different components of the institutional arrangements for the management of threatened birds. Chapter 2 examines the external variables of the institutional framework for threatened birds, which includes: the birds, other biophysical components (threats, taxonomy and genetics, protected areas and other spatial properties), the rules (legislation and policies), non-governmental programmes, and the community attributes. In Chapter 3 I utilise the framework described in Chapter 1 and explore six case study birds in greater detail to determine the conservation objectives and the extent to which they have been met for each taxon and which aspects of the institutional environment influence each taxon.
How the decision-makers within the institutional arrangements solve collective problems and interact with each other is critical to the success or failure of management programmes and requires greater understanding. This is the focus of Chapter 4 and through the use of case study taxa I explore collaborations including recovery teams and social networks.
To address the need for prioritising management of the growing number of listed threatened species with limited resources, governments in the region have independently developed formal prioritisation processes to assist in decision-making and this important institutional regime is the subject of Chapter 5. This chapter provides the first systematic review of these different prioritization approaches. Finally in Chapter 6, I conclude by summarising the key findings of the study that contribute to our understanding of institutions and how they influence the management of threatened birds.
Overall the institutional arrangements have evolved to be multifaceted involving complex ecology and threatening processes, multiple scales and many participants with a diversity of perspectives. They have expanded their capacity for monitoring, research and implementation of actions, and involved an increasing number of participants. For birds, the non-government sector has taken the lead on national monitoring and assessment of conservation status programmes as well as many site-based management projects specific to threatened birds. The national and state governments have worked on improving their individual decision-making processes for managing threatened species and have developed different systems. There is increased knowledge, improved decision-making processes, increased cooperation and collaboration, and more transparency. However, the conservation losses far outweigh the gains and the negative outcomes occur, in part, as a consequence of weaknesses in the institutional framework. These weaknesses occur at all scales and include: the slow pace at which institutions evolve or are established; poor or poorly implemented legislation and policies; the disjunction of planning processes for the management of threatened species; the issue of fit between institutions and the bio-geophysical contexts within which they operate; and inadequacies of institutions responding to large scale problems, economic influences and different cultural values. From a process perspective, effectiveness has been demonstrated by: taking responsibility for collation and analysis of data; being task-orientated; adaptively determining actions; coordinating activity; responding quickly to new information; and communicating decisions to stakeholders. However, there are weaknesses identified in this study contributing to inefficiencies.
Ultimately, Australia needs to pay more attention to governance of the management of threatened species and how best to use social and biological science through decision-making processes. Legislation designed to promote species recovery of all jurisdictions in Australia needs to be reviewed, strengthened, and fully resourced and implemented, and this needs to occur within appropriate timeframes. Threatened species conservation should be a national collaborative commitment to identify a single set of agreed threatened species objectives and priorities for the nation, then develop projects using recovery plans, secure funding and implement the actions.