Does recovery planning improve the status of threatened species?

Madeleine C. Bottrill, Jessica C. Walsh, James E.M. Watson, Liana N. Joseph, Alejandro Ortega-Argueta, Hugh P. Possingham

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73 Citations (Scopus)


Recovery planning is a key component of government-funded initiatives to address declining populations of threatened species. To date, there has been limited retrospective evaluation on the impact of recovery plans, despite an increasing interest in evaluating recovery planning motivated by demands for greater accountability and a shift away from single-species focused strategies to multi-species, landscape and ecosystem-based plans. In the context of threatened species management in Australia, we aimed to investigate whether listed species with recovery plans are more likely to have improved their status compared to listed species without recovery plans. Since 1999, over 600 draft and approved recovery plans have been developed for more than 850 of 1663 species currently listed threatened species in Australia. We applied a novel econometric matching analysis to reduce biases associated with the non-random selection of species for listing and recovery planning. We found that the presence or absence of a recovery plan did not have a statistically significant effect on whether a species' status was improving, stable or declining. The result suggests that recovery plans may not be useful in the short term and uncertainty persists about whether or not they make a long term contribution to species recovery. One major contributing factor is the lack of basic accounting of recovery planning efforts. This limits our ability to refute or confirm the impact of recovery planning on species status, and has the potential to reduce public confidence in government expenditures. Better systems for reporting and evaluation are therefore required to promote transparency, improve existing knowledge and facilitate efficient investments in future management actions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1595-1601
Number of pages7
JournalBiological Conservation
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Australia
  • Program evaluation
  • Recovery planning
  • Threatened species

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