Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Major Professor

Paul R. Armsworth

Committee Members

Seonghoon Cho, James A. Fordyce


Given limited budgets, conservation organizations need to efficiently allocate their resources for biodiversity protection. While many organizations combine socioeconomic and biological data to identify areas with the highest biological return per dollar invested, it is less clear how uncertainty in socioeconomic data affects this planning process. In Chapter 1, we show how uncertainty due to proxy choice and spatial averaging affect conservation planning by comparing average agricultural land values, a common proxy for the acquisition costs of protected areas, to a case study recent protected area investments in the Eastern US. We find this proxy explains little variation and significantly overestimates the parcel-level acquisition costs of protected areas. Furthermore, our results demonstrate errors due to proxy choice result in conservation plans that substantially overestimate the costs of protected areas for both a local and a complementarity richness objective. In Chapter 2, we investigate spatial averaging further by systematically manipulating the spatial grain of our biological and socioeconomic data in concert, and then demonstrating how the conclusion of a classic debate in conservation planning depends on the spatial grain of the data being used. Specifically, we find the relative performance of cost and benefit targeting is sensitive to spatial grain, and that combining data over different spatial grains inflates the apparent effectiveness of a cost targeting strategy. We recommend that future studies account for uncertainty in their socioeconomic data by first matching the spatial grain of their data sources with their planning units, and then by collecting socioeconomic data that more reliably reflect the costs of acquiring protected areas.

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