Chief Scientist of The Nature Conservancy
Hugh Possingham Chief Scientist of The Nature Conservancy © Bill Marr / The Nature Conservancy

Our People

Hugh Possingham

Chief Scientist

Brisbane, Australia and Arlington, Virginia


Dr. Hugh Possingham is a world-renowned scientist with a highly distinguished career during which he has published over 610 peer-reviewed papers and supervised 135 doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows. He co-developed the conservation planning Marxan software used in more than 180 countries for designing nature reserves and zoning plans, which is considered one of the most significant contributions to conservation biology.

He has been instrumental in policy reforms that created marine reserve systems in Australia (over 2 million square km) and around the world; reduced land clearing to save millions of hectares of forest and woodland; and used return-on-investment analyses to transform how governments allocate funds for conservation.

Hugh has served as Chief Scientist at The Nature Conservancy (TNC) since 2016. He is based in Arlington, Virginia, and Brisbane, Australia. Hugh guides and promotes the work of TNC’s >350 practicing scientists working in 79 countries and territories, as well as in every U.S. state. He also leads TNC’s Global Science team, which ensures TNC is guided by science around the globe. Hugh works with TNC’s Scientific Advisory Council and Cabinet of Lead Scientists.

His expertise is in ecology, applied mathematics, marine spatial planning, population viability analysis and economic instruments for conservation outcomes. Hugh currently serves on the Science for Nature and People Partnership (SNAPP)  board and represents TNC on the Natural Capital Partnership led by Stanford University.

He previously directed the Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science at the University of Queensland, Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions and the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program Threatened Species Recovery Hub.

Over the past 30 years, he has also contributed to innumerable boards and expert advisory committees, including the Myer Foundation, Bush Heritage Australia, Birds Australia, and the World Wildlife Fund. He was the inaugural chair of the Australian federal government Biological Diversity Advisory Committee, and a founding member of the Wentworth Group that leads Australia’s water reforms.

Hugh has also led the creation of conservation tools with global impact. His research helped develop a return-on-investment approach to solving biodiversity challenges, which has transformed how money is allocated for threatened species recovery and to solve other conservation conundrums.

The Possingham Lab at the University of Queensland uses mathematics to formulate and solve problems for saving plants, animals and ecosystems. The lab developed the most widely used conservation planning software in the world, Marxan, which was used to rezone the Great Barrier Reef and many of the world’s marine and terrestrial reserve systems. Marxan can achieve conservation outcomes while maximizing development opportunities. Marxan has assisted the conservation rezoning of about 10% of the planet and is one of TNC’s main spatial planning tools.

While at The University of Queensland, Hugh raised over A$100 million in research grants for conservation science, mainly from the Australian Research Council and the Federal Environment Department. In addition, Hugh and Dr. Barry Traill wrote “The Brigalow Declaration,” used by Premier Beattie to more than halve land clearing in Queensland, reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Australia by more than 5% per year and saving one million acres per year from conversion, which amounts to saving 20 million birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians per year.

He has one obsession: A compulsive desire to watch birds.

Academic Research Program: Smart thinking for conserving biodiversity

  • Conservation Biology:  setting conservation priorities, reserve system design (especially marine), using decision theory ideas and economics to solve conservation problems while facilitating sustainable economic growth, threatened species management, disturbance management, population viability analysis, biodiversity and climate change.  
  • Other applied ecology:  fisheries management, vertebrate pest and weed management.  
  • Basic ecological theory:  metapopulation dynamics, stochastic population modelling, population dynamics of marine organisms, avian community ecology, edge effects and fragmentation, landscape ecology.

Visit Hugh's Google Scholar Profile for a full list of publications.

Download Hugh's CV

Find Hugh on Wikipedia.

+ more - less

Is It Time to Let Certain Animals Go Extinct?

Conservationists don’t have enough money to save all the endangered species. How do we decide which ones to fund? Outside Magazine covers Hugh's research on prioritizing conservation spending.

Wars Kill Wildlife in Africa's Protected Areas

Monga Bay

Extreme Botany: How Far Should We Go to Save a Plant Species

The Christian Science Monitor

How a Math Formula Could Decide Fate of Endangered U.S. Species


What Works in Conservation?

Monga Bay

Visit Hugh's Google Scholar Profile for a full list of publications.


Baldwin, R.F., Trombulak, S.C., Leonard, P.B., Noss, R.F., Hilty, J.A., Possingham, H.P., Scarlett, L. & Anderson, M.G. (2018). The Future of Landscape Conservation. BioScience. doi: 10.1093/biosci/bix142

Brown, C.J., Althor, G., Halpern, B.S., Iftekhar, M.S., Klein, C.J., Linke, S., Pryde, E.C., Schilizzi, S., Watson, J.E.M., Twohey, B. & Possingham, H.P. (2018). Trade-offs in triple-bottom-line outcomes when recovering fisheries. Fish and Fisheries, 19, 107–116.


Di Marco, M., Watson, J.E.M., Currie, D.J., Possingham, H.P. & Venter, O. (2018). The extent and predictability of the biodiversity–carbon correlation. Ecology Letters, doi:10.1111/ele.12903

McGowan, J., Bode, M., Holden, M.H., Davis, K., Krueck, N.C., Beger, M., Yates, K.L. & Possingham, H.P. (2018). Ocean zoning within a sparing versus sharing framework. Theoretical Ecology, 1–10.

Raiter, K.G., Prober, S.M., Possingham, H.P., Westcott, F. & Hobbs, R.J. (2018). Linear infrastructure impacts on landscape hydrology. Journal of Environmental Management, 206, 446–457.

Venegas-Li, R., Levin, N., Possingham, H. & Kark, S. (2018). 3D spatial conservation prioritisation: Accounting for depth in marine environments. Methods Ecology and Evolution, doi: 10.1111/2041-210X.12896

Ward, M., Possingham, H., Rhodes, J.R. & Mumby, P. (2018). Food, money and lobsters: Valuing ecosystem services to align environmental management with Sustainable Development Goals. Ecosystem Services, 29, 56–69.


Archibald, C.L., McKinney, M., Mustin, K., Shanahan, D.F. & Possingham, H.P. (2017). Assessing the impact of revegetation and weed control on urban sensitive bird species. Ecol Evol, 7, 4200–4208.

Bayraktarov, E., Saunders, M.I., Mumby, P.J., Possingham, H.P., Abdullah, S. & Lovelock, C.E. (2017). Response to ‘Rebutting the inclined analyses on the cost-effectiveness and feasibility of coral reef restoration.’ Ecol Appl.


Bennett, J.R., Maloney, R.F., Steeves, T.E., Brazill-Boast, J., Possingham, H.P. & Seddon, P.J. (2017). Spending limited resources on de-extinction could lead to net biodiversity loss. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 1, s41559-016-0053-016.


Biggs, D., Holden, M.H., Braczkowski, A., Cook, C.N., Milner-Gulland, E.J., Phelps, J., Scholes, R.J., Smith, R.J., Underwood, F.M., Adams, V.M., Allan, J., Brink, H., Cooney, R., Gao, Y., Hutton, J., Macdonald-Madden, E., Maron, M., Redford, K.H., Sutherland, W.J. & Possingham, H.P. (2017). Breaking the deadlock on ivory. Science, 358, 1378–1381.

Bonebrake, T.C., et al. (2017). Managing consequences of climate-driven species redistribution requires integration of ecology, conservation and social science. Biol Rev.

Carvalho, S.B., Velo-Antón, G., Tarroso, P., Portela, A.P., Barata, M., Carranza, S., Moritz, C. & Possingham, H.P. (2017). Spatial conservation prioritization of biodiversity spanning the evolutionary continuum. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 1, 0151.

Chauvenet, A.L.M., Kuempel, C.D., McGowan, J., Beger, M. & Possingham, H.P. (2017). Methods for calculating Protection Equality for conservation planning. PLOS ONE, 12, e0171591.

Correa, D.F., Beyer, H.L., Possingham, H.P., Thomas-Hall, S.R. & Schenk, P.M. (2017). Biodiversity impacts of bioenergy production: Microalgae vs. first generation biofuels. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 74, 1131–1146.


Dee, L.E., Allesina, S., Bonn, A., Eklöf, A., Gaines, S.D., Hines, J., Jacob, U., McDonald-Madden, E., Possingham, H., Schröter, M. & Thompson, R.M. (2017). Operationalizing Network Theory for Ecosystem Service Assessments. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 32, 118–130.

Dhanjal-Adams, K.L., Klaassen, M., Nicol, S., Possingham, H.P., Chadès, I. & Fuller, R.A. (2017). Setting conservation priorities for migratory networks under uncertainty. Conservation Biology, 31, 646–656.

Di Marco, M., Chapman, S., Althor, G., Kearney, S., Besancon, C., Butt, N., Maina, J.M., Possingham, H.P., Rogalla von Bieberstein, K., Venter, O. & Watson, J.E.M. (2017). Changing trends and persisting biases in three decades of conservation science. Global Ecology and Conservation, 10, 32–42.

Di Marco, M., Watson, J.E.M., Possingham, H.P. & Venter, O. (2017). Limitations and trade-offs in the use of species distribution maps for protected area planning. J Appl Ecol, 54, 402–411.

Gibson, F.L., Rogers, A.A., Smith, A.D.M., Roberts, A., Possingham, H., McCarthy, M. & Pannell, D.J. (2017). Factors influencing the use of decision support tools in the development and design of conservation policy. Environmental Science & Policy, 70, 1–8.

Hanson, J.O., Rhodes, J.R., Possingham, H.P. & Fuller, R.A. (2017). raptr: Representative and adequate prioritization toolkit in R. Methods Ecol Evol. doi:10.1111/2041-210X.12862

Helmstedt, K.J. & Possingham, H.P. (2017). Costs are key when reintroducing threatened species to multiple release sites. Anim Conserv, 20, 331–340.

Horton, K., Knight, H., Galvin, K.A., Goldstein, J.H. & Herrington, J. (2017). An evaluation of landowners’ conservation easements on their livelihoods and well-being. Biological Conservation, 209, 62–67.


Iacona, G., Maloney, R.F., Chadès, I., Bennett, J.R., Seddon, P.J. & Possingham, H.P. (2017). Prioritizing revived species: what are the conservation management implications of de-extinction? Funct Ecol, 31, 1041–1048.


Iacona, G.D., Possingham, H.P. & Bode, M. (2017). Waiting can be an optimal conservation strategy, even in a crisis discipline. PNAS, 114, 10497–10502.

Jumin, R., Binson, A., McGowan, J., Magupin, S., Beger, M., Brown, C.J., Possingham, H.P. & Klein, C. (2017). From Marxan to management: ocean zoning with stakeholders for Tun Mustapha Park in Sabah, Malaysia. Oryx, 1–12.


Keeler, B.L., Chaplin-Kramer, R., Guerry, A.D., Addison, P.F.E., Bettigole, C., Burke, I.C., Gentry, B., Chambliss, L., Young, C., Travis, A.J., Darimont, C.T., Gordon, D.R., Hellmann, J., Kareiva, P., Monfort, S., Olander, L., Profeta, T., Possingham, H.P., Slotterback, C., Sterling, E., Ticktin, T. & Vira, B. (2017). Society Is Ready for a New Kind of Science—Is Academia? BioScience, 67, 591–592.

Klein, C.J., Beher, J., Chaloupka, M., Hamann, M., Limpus, C. & Possingham, H.P. (2017). Prioritization of marine turtle management projects: a protocol that accounts for threats to different life history stages. Conservation Letters. doi: 10.1111/conl.12324

Krueck, N.C., Ahmadia, G.N., Green, A., Jones, G.P., Possingham, H.P., Riginos, C., Treml, E.A. & Mumby, P.J. (2017). Incorporating larval dispersal into MPA design for both conservation and fisheries. Ecol Appl, 27, 925–941.


Krueck, N.C., Ahmadia, G.N., Possingham, H.P., Riginos, C., Treml, E.A. & Mumby, P.J. (2017). Marine Reserve Targets to Sustain and Rebuild Unregulated Fisheries. PLOS Biology, 15, e2000537.

Lin, H.-Y., Bush, A., Linke, S., Possingham, H.P. & Brown, C.J. (2017). Climate change decouples marine and freshwater habitats of a threatened migratory fish. Diversity Distrib, 23, 751–760.

Martin, T.G., Camaclang, A.E., Possingham, H.P., Maguire, L.A. & Chadès, I. (2017). Timing of Protection of Critical Habitat Matters. Conservation Letters, 10, 308–316. 

Martinez-Harms, M.J., Caceres, H., Biggs, D. & Possingham, H.P. (2017). After Chile’s fires, reforest private land. Science, 356, 147–148.

Maseyk, F.J.F., Mackay, A.D., Possingham, H.P., Dominati, E.J. & Buckley, Y.M. (2017). Managing Natural Capital Stocks for the Provision of Ecosystem Services. Conservation Letters, 10, 211–220.

McGowan, J., Beger, M., Lewison, R.L., Harcourt, R., Campbell, H., Priest, M., Dwyer, R.G., Lin, H.-Y., Lentini, P., Dudgeon, C., McMahon, C., Watts, M. & Possingham, H.P. (2017). Integrating research using animal-borne telemetry with the needs of conservation management. J Appl Ecol, 54, 423–429.

McGowan, J., Smith, R.J., Di Marco, M., Clarke, R.H. & Possingham, H.P. (2017). An Evaluation of Marine Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas in the Context of Spatial Conservation Prioritization. Conservation Letters. doi: 10.1111/conl.12399

Ponce-Reyes, R., Plumptre, A.J., Segan, D., Ayebare, S., Fuller, R.A., Possingham, H.P. & Watson, J.E.M. (2017). Forecasting ecosystem responses to climate change across Africa’s Albertine Rift. Biological Conservation, 209, 464–472.


Possingham, H.P. & Gerber, L.R. (2017). Ecology: The effect of conservation spending. Nature, 551, 309.

Prowse, T.A.A., Collard, S.J., Blackwood, A., O’Connor, P.J., Delean, S., Barnes, M., Cassey, P. & Possingham, H.P. (2017). Prescribed burning impacts avian diversity and disadvantages woodland-specialist birds unless long-unburnt habitat is retained. Biological Conservation, 215, 268–276.

Raiter, K.G., Prober, S.M., Hobbs, R.J. & Possingham, H.P. (2017). Lines in the sand: quantifying the cumulative development footprint in the world’s largest remaining temperate woodland. Landscape Ecol, 32, 1969–1986.

Renwick, A.R., Robinson, C.J., Garnett, S.T., Leiper, I., Possingham, H.P. & Carwardine, J. (2017). Mapping Indigenous land management for threatened species conservation: An Australian case-study. PLOS ONE, 12, e0173876.

Runting, R.K., Bryan, B.A., Dee, L.E., Maseyk, F.J.F., Mandle, L., Hamel, P., Wilson, K.A., Yetka, K., Possingham, H.P. & Rhodes, J.R. (2017). Incorporating climate change into ecosystem service assessments and decisions: a review. Glob Change Biol, 23, 28–41.


Saunders, M.I., Atkinson, S., Klein, C.J., Weber, T. & Possingham, H.P. (2017). Increased sediment loads cause non-linear decreases in seagrass suitable habitat extent. PLOS ONE, 12, e0187284.

Saunders, M.I., Bode, M., Atkinson, S., Klein, C.J., Metaxas, A., Beher, J., Beger, M., Mills, M., Giakoumi, S., Tulloch, V. & Possingham, H.P. (2017). Simple rules can guide whether land- or ocean-based conservation will best benefit marine ecosystems. PLOS Biology, 15, e2001886.


Schuster, R., Law, E.A., Rodewald, A.D., Martin, T.G., Wilson, K.A., Watts, M., Possingham, H.P. & Arcese, P. (2017). Tax Shifting and Incentives for Biodiversity Conservation on Private Lands. Conservation Letters.


Studds, C.E., Kendall, B.E., Murray, N.J., Wilson, H.B., Rogers, D.I., Clemens, R.S., Gosbell, K., Hassell, C.J., Jessop, R., Melville, D.S., Milton, D.A., Minton, C.D.T., Possingham, H.P., Riegen, A.C., Straw, P., Woehler, E.J. & Fuller, R.A. (2017). Rapid population decline in migratory shorebirds relying on Yellow Sea tidal mudflats as stopover sites. Nat Commun, 8.

Sushinsky, J., Rhodes, J., Shanahan, D., Possingham, H. & Fuller, R. (2017). Maintaining experiences of nature as a city grows. Ecology and Society, 22.

Takashina, N., Beger, M., Kusumoto, B., Rathnayake, S. & Possingham, H. (2017). A Theory For Ecological Survey Methods To Map Individual Distributions. bioRxiv, 137158.

Takashina, N., Kusumoto, B., Beger, M., Rathnayake, S. & Possingham, H.P. (2017). Spatially Explicit Approach To Population Abundance Estimation In Field Surveys. bioRxiv, 131037.

Takashina, N., Lee, J.-H. & Possingham, H.P. (2017). Effect of marine reserve establishment on non-cooperative fisheries management. Ecological Modelling, 360, 336–342.

Teixeira, J.B., Moura, R.L., Mills, M., Klein, C., Brown, C.J., Adams, V.M., Grantham, H., Watts, M., Faria, D., Amado-Filho, G.M., Bastos, A.C., Lourival, R. & Possingham, H.P. (2017). A novel habitat-based approach to predict impacts of marine protected areas on fishers. Conservation Biology.

Tulloch, V.J., Klein, C.J., Jupiter, S.D., Tulloch, A.I.T., Roelfsema, C. & Possingham, H.P. (2017). Trade-offs between data resolution, accuracy, and cost when choosing information to plan reserves for coral reef ecosystems. Journal of Environmental Management, 188, 108–119.

Watts, M.E., Stewart, R.R., Martin, T.G., Klein, C.J., Carwardine, J. & Possingham, H.P. (2017). Systematic Conservation Planning with Marxan. In: Learning Landscape Ecology. Springer, New York, NY, pp. 211–227.