Environmentalists today constantly struggle with conservation costs—both with monetary expenses and the price of species diversity, claims a Georgia Tech professor. Bistra Dilkina’s computational sustainability research reveals that by connecting computational science with ecology, decision-makers can generate effective and business-savvy conservation decisions. “There’s a computational way to figure out how far from the solution you are.”
Addressing “Network Design Approaches to Biodiversity and Conservation” at the Howard H. Baker Center for Public Policy on Wednesday, Dilkina highlighted the implication of her computational approach to ecology as a means of developing and government policy about eocolgy and biodiversity
Dilkina explained that oftentimes plans are proposed based on the best conservation and “only after the plan hits the ground” is it realized that the plan is not cost-effective. Then, the ecologist must start back at ground zero. By computing cost and conservation in tandem, Dilkina provides a tangible and realistic next-step toward ecologic advancement, and is able to redesign a single problem in the plan rather than starting over.
In partnership with the Conservation Fund, Dilkina was challenged with developing a model that allowed the company to purchase parcels of land that would be both profitable financially for the company and beneficial conservationally for an endangered species of woodpecker living on the land. She considered factors such as number of trees, tree height, habitability, flight distance and purchasing price, amongst others in her design. By running advanced computations, she proposed a maximum amount and region of land that would provide the maximum survival of the woodpeckers, putting a price on the life of these woodpeckers.
“Although we started with a very specific problem, we realized this is something that happens all over the place. This opens a whole agenda of implications,” Dilkina said. These implications include a range of real-world decisions from areas of urbanization, deforestation, and agriculture to the minimum and maximum spread of diseases. Dilkina recognized the best means of change is realistic, cost effective change.
“We’re not controlling the scenario, we just get a representation of the scenario,” Dilkina said.