Most research programmes tend to be characterised by short-term funding with restricted bio-geographical ranges. Long-term projects covering large bio-geographical scales and that incorporate more than one ecosystem are rare. The Operation Wallacea programme provides the opportunity to consider science and conservation of key ecosystems from a global perspective. Opwall is able to draw upon researchers from a wide range of different disciplines and academic institutions to address major issues related to the sustainable management and conservation of some of the world’s most diverse but threatened environments. In order to achieve this, Opwall follows a four-stage strategy designed to grow a site from conception and initial assessment, to multi-disciplinary research and ultimately active conservation.
The first task at a new site is to assess the relative biodiversity value of the local area to determine the protection requirements or, if it is already protected, whether it will make a valuable long-term study site for the Opwall research teams. This typically involves a rapid ecological assessment (REA) combining surveys of as wide a range of taxonomic groups as possible, with particular focus on taxa that are known to be of particular importance or concern based on previous studies in the same region or ecosystem type.
Once established as a long-term site, the rapid ecological assessment from Stage 1 is expanded into an annual biodiversity monitoring programme so that changes in the ecosystem can be assessed and quantified. These surveys often lead to more detailed studies of aspects of the ecosystem where there appears to be a particular anthropogenic impact. The tuition-fee funded model used by Operation Wallacea means that these monitoring programmes can continue indefinitely, leading to unusually large and complex datasets.
Successful conservation requires the co-operation of adjacent human communities and other stakeholders, and so a detailed understanding of how these communities interact with the local ecosystems is vital. Once long-term biodiversity monitoring is established, socioeconomic surveys are introduced to develop an understanding of the relationship between humans and natural resources in and around the study site.
Finally, international funding is sought via our charitable partner the Wallacea Trust to establish a best practice conservation management programme. The emphasis at this stage is on achieving conservation via the provision of sustainable business opportunities to local stakeholders. We believe that if conservation can be more financially rewarding to local communities than exploitation of natural resources, long-term success can not only be achieved, but maintained indefinitely whilst also benefiting the local economy.
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