Bird for Buck or ‘You left a well paid job to do what?!’

So here it is, the sophomore blog post. Will it fall victim to the dreaded sophomore slump, or will my number of readers reach double figures (ie. 2, not including mum) as a result?

As promised in my blogging debut, this post will focus on the topic of my PhD. Now before we get down to details, first a little disclaimer. If there’s one thing I have learned since embarking on this mystical journey of greatly reduced income and intellectual nourishment, it’s that you rarely end up doing your research the way you plan at the start. Things change, and sometimes dramatically from what the older kids tell me. So while I may spell out a well planned, carefully designed study to address a highly topical question in the conservation of woodland birds, I may end up writing a thesis on the relationship between fingernail hygiene and musical taste in the hill tribes of greater Monrovia.

With that, back to the birds.

At the broadest level, my research will focus on answering the following question. Which approach to restoring and conserving woodland birds in agricultural landscapes is the most cost-effective? In other words, which method provides the greatest bang for buck – or bird for buck to be more precise? Approaches to restoration broadly involve active and passive techniques. Active restoration involves planting, or revegetation. We plant trees and shrubs in all sorts of configurations and in all sizes, though typically, at least in agricultural areas, in long narrow strips often called shelterbelts. Passive restoration involves a more ‘hands-off’ approach, and instead is based on the idea of basically allowing nature to look after  itself, albeit with a little helping hand. For example, many woodland restoration schemes involve payment of incentives to farmers for fencing remnant woodlands to minimise livestock grazing and (hopefully) allow regeneration of trees, shrubs and grasses. Which of these techniques, which are both applied across agricultural landscapes in Australia and around the world, and often at great cost, provides the greatest conservation benefit for the money spent? Answering this question involves two steps. Firstly, we must identify which method provides the greatest conservation gain. Which is more effective? More birds. Secondly, we look at which method provides the greatest conservation gain per dollar spent. Which is more cost-effective? Less bucks.

Why would we want to know? I’m glad I ask! There are not enough dollars to fix the biodiversity problems that we as a society face. By identifying which restoration techniques are the most cost-effective, we can get greater conservation outcomes with the funding available. More birds per buck.

Another thing I’ve learnt is the importance of novelty in a PhD. Novelty helps your research get published. And publishing is the name of the game. The novelty in my research comes not from the fact that I will write my thesis entirely in pig latin (Iyay amyay ullfay ofyay itshay), but from: 1) the inclusion of economic data, costs are often ignored in assessing restoration effectiveness; 2) the measurement of conservation gain by comparing birds at each restored site with a paired control site, whereas effectiveness is normally gauged by  which species and how many are found at restoration sites.

So that is what will largely preoccupy me for the next 3 years, well that and grappling with the idea of not having to wear an ironed shirt (among other ‘foundation’ garments) every day of the working week. Actually, what is a working week?

And with that dear reader (singular intended), I bid you farewell. In the next installment, I pontificate on the hidden challenges of stepping off the public service merry-go-round. Until then..