Iacona GD, M Bode, PR Armsworth (2016) Limitations of outsourcing on-the-ground biodiversity conservation. CONSERVATION BIOLOGY 30(6):1245-1254

To counteract global species decline, modern biodiversity conservation engages in large projects, spends billions of dollars, and includes many organizations working simultaneously within regions. To add to this complexity, the conservation sector has hierarchical structure, where conservation actions are often outsourced by funders (foundations, government, etc.) to local organizations that work on-the-ground. In contrast, conservation science usually assumes that a single organization makes resource allocation decisions. This discrepancy calls for theory to understand how the expected biodiversity outcomes change when interactions between organizations are accounted for. Here, we used a game theoretic model to explore how biodiversity outcomes are affected by vertical and horizontal interactions between 3 conservation organizations: a funder that outsourced its actions and 2 local conservation organizations that work on-the-ground. Interactions between the organizations changed the spending decisions made by individual organizations, and thereby the magnitude and direction of the conservation benefits. We showed that funders would struggle to incentivize recipient organizations with set priorities to perform desired actions, even when they control substantial amounts of the funding and employ common contracting approaches to enhance outcomes. Instead, biodiversity outcomes depended on priority alignment across the organizations. Conservation outcomes for the funder were improved by strategic interactions when organizational priorities were well aligned, but decreased when priorities were misaligned. Meanwhile, local organizations had improved outcomes regardless of alignment due to additional funding in the system. Given that conservation often involves the aggregate actions of multiple organizations with different objectives, strategic interactions between organizations need to be considered if we are to predict possible outcomes of conservation programs or costs of achieving conservation targets.