Maximizing return on investment in conservation

William Murdoch, Stephen Polasky, Kerrie A. Wilson, Hugh P. Possingham, Peter Kareiva, Rebecca Shaw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

295 Scopus citations


Global conservation needs far exceed the available resources, so scarce resources must be used cost-effectively. Although many conservation priory-setting frameworks used by NGO's or public agencies explicitly claim to emphasize efficiency or wise investment, none actually incorporates costs in a formal return-on-investment (ROI) framework. We illustrate here how an ROI framework can be applied to real world resource allocation decisions faced by conservation organizations. We present two examples: (1) allocating resources to purchase land in 21 ecoregions that make up the Temperate Forest Habitat in the US; (2) allocating resources among a variety of conservation actions (not just land purchase) in Mediterranean habitats, with rates of habitat loss factored into the analysis. An important feature of both case studies is that costs vary by orders of magnitude, depending on where or how one is doing conservation. Second, because costs and biodiversity are not well correlated, enormous savings are possible by applying an ROI analysis. Moreover, recommended priorities after including costs in the calculations often deviate substantially from priorities based solely on biodiversity measures. Hence we argue that a major effort of conservationist biologists should be to include and record the costs of conservation actions. If serious attention is not given to returns on investment, it implies that "money is no object.".

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)375-388
Number of pages14
JournalBiological Conservation
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Oct 2007

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded in part by The University of Queensland, the Australian Research Council, The Nature Conservancy of California, The Oracle Corporation, and The Rodney Johnson/Katherine Ordway Stewardship Endowment and the University of California, Santa Barbara. David Bael and Michael Bode commented on the ms and helped with analyses. Early collaborations were supported by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, University of California, Santa Barbara.

Copyright 2008 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Benefit
  • Conservation planning
  • Cost
  • Maximizing gain
  • Minimizing loss
  • Species-area curve
  • Species-investment curve


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