How math helps save species

Dr. Possingham standing in front of large screen in theater giving presentationHugh Possingham, Ph.D., Chief Scientist of The Nature Conservancy—the world’s largest environmental non-government organization—recently visited ASU Center for Biodiversity Outcomes to meet with faculty, students, and administrators and present a series of talks. In partnership with the ASU Sustainability Solutions Festival and the Arizona Science Center, Dr. Possingham delivered a presentation on how math and funds prioritization can augment our capacity to protect certain endangered species. “I have translated human’s hopes, dreams and fears into algebra,” said Possingham. “If you want to go do something, go save a plant … or you can make up a formula and save 250 species.” Understanding that there is a finite amount of time, money and resources, our knowledge and application of the mathematics of decision science is crucial in finding answers to intriguing conservation questions, such as which species should we save—koala bears or polar bears; where should we place marine protected areas, and what is the point of gathering more data.