Our Scientists

Hugh Possingham, DPhil (Oxford)

Hugh Possingham

Chief Scientist

Hugh is the Chief Scientist of The Nature Conservancy having recently moved from the University of Queensland. His group of 29 PhD students and 15 postdocs (embedded in three centres) work all over the world using decision science tools from economics and applied mathematics to formulate and solve conservation problems in the real world. For example, Tun Mustapha marine park, the largest in Malaysia declared in May, was a joint project with WWF Malaysia and Sabah Parks.

His interests include: conservation metrics, biodiversity offsetting, population modelling, sea-sharing and sea-sparing, prioritising actions, spatial zoning with Marxan and other tools, optimal monitoring and government policy. Here you can find a magazine style description of some of the group’s most recent work. Hugh was recently elected a Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences (USA).

He has a debilitating obsession with bird watching – treat him kindly.

Download Hugh’s CV

Contact Hugh: hugh[dot]possingham[at]tnc[dot]org

Read Hugh Possingham's Full Biography


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


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


Atkinson, S.C., Jupiter, S.D., Adams, V.M., Ingram, J.C., Narayan, S., Klein, C.J. & Possingham, H.P. (2016). Prioritising mangrove ecosystem services results in spatially variable management priorities. PLOS ONE, 11, e0151992.

Barr, L.M., Watson, J.E.M., Possingham, H.P., Iwamura, T. & Fuller, R.A. (2016). Progress in improving the protection of species and habitats in Australia. Biological Conservation, 200, 184–191.


Bayraktarov, E., Saunders, M.I., Abdullah, S., Mills, M., Beher, J., Possingham, H.P., Mumby, P.J. & Lovelock, C.E. (2016). The cost and feasibility of marine coastal restoration. Ecological Applications, 26, 1055–1074.

Beher, J., Possingham, H.P., Hoobin, S., Dougall, C. & Klein, C. (2016). Prioritising catchment management projects to improve marine water quality. Environmental Science & Policy, 59, 35–43.

Beyer, H.L., Dujardin, Y., Watts, M.E. & Possingham, H.P. (2016). Solving conservation planning problems with integer linear programming. Ecological Modelling, 328, 14–22.

Butt, N., Possingham, H.P., De Los Rios, C., Maggini, R., Fuller, R.A., Maxwell, S.L. & Watson, J.E.M. (2016). Challenges in assessing the vulnerability of species to climate change to inform conservation actions. Biological Conservation, 199, 10–15.

Dhanjal-Adams, K.L., Klaassen, M., Nicol, S., Possingham, H.P., Chadès, I. & Fuller, R.A. (2016). Setting conservation priorities for migratory networks under uncertainty. Conservation Biology. doi: 10.1111/cobi.12842

Dhanjal-Adams, K.L., Mustin, K., Possingham, H.P. & Fuller, R.A. (2016). Optimizing disturbance management for wildlife protection: the enforcement allocation problem. Journal of Applied Ecology, 53, 1215–1224.

Di Fonzo, M.M.I., Possingham, H.P., Probert, W.J.M., Bennett, J.R., Joseph, L.N., Tulloch, A.I.T., O’Connor, S., Densem, J. & Maloney, R.F. (2016). Evaluating trade-offs between target persistence levels and numbers of species conserved. Conservation Letters, 9, 51–57.

Di Marco, M., Watson, J.E.M., Possingham, H.P. & Venter, O. (2016). Limitations and trade-offs in the use of species distribution maps for protected area planning. Journal of Applied Ecology. doi: 10.1111/1365-2664.12771

Di Marco, M., Watson, J.E.M., Venter, O. & Possingham, H.P. (2016). Global biodiversity targets require both sufficiency and efficiency. Conservation Letters. doi: 10.1111/conl.12299

Evans, M.C., Tulloch, A.I.T., Law, E.A., Raiter, K.G., Possingham, H.P. & Wilson, K.A. (2016). Better planning outcomes requires clear consideration of costs, condition and conservation benefits, and access to the best available data: reply to Gosper et al., 2016. Biological Conservation, 242–243.

Hammill, E., Tulloch, A.I.T., Possingham, H.P., Strange, N. & Wilson, K.A. (2016). Factoring attitudes towards armed conflict risk into selection of protected areas for conservation. Nature Communications, 7, 11042.


Helmstedt, K.J., Shaw, J.D., Bode, M., Terauds, A., Springer, K., Robinson, S.A. & Possingham, H.P. (2016). Prioritizing eradication actions on islands: it’s not all or nothing. Journal of Applied Ecology, 53, 733–741.

Hock, K., Wolff, N.H., Beeden, R., Hoey, J., Condie, S.A., Anthony, K.R.N., Possingham, H.P. & Mumby, P.J. (2016). Controlling range expansion in habitat networks by adaptively targeting source populations. Conservation Biology, 30, 856–866.

Holmes, T.Q., Head, B.W., Possingham, H.P. & Garnett, S.T. (2016). Strengths and vulnerabilities of Australian networks for conservation of threatened birds. Oryx. doi: 10.1017/S0030605316000454

Iacona, G., Maloney, R.F., Chadès, I., Bennett, J.R., Seddon, P.J. & Possingham, H.P. (2016). Prioritizing revived species: what are the conservation management implications of de-extinction? Functional Ecology. doi: 10.1111/1365-2435.12720

Jones, K.R., Plumptre, A.J., Watson, J.E.M., Possingham, H.P., Ayebare, S., Rwetsiba, A., Wanyama, F., kujirakwinja, D. & Klein, C.J. (2016). Testing the effectiveness of surrogate species for conservation planning in the Greater Virunga Landscape, Africa. Landscape and Urban Planning, 145, 1–11.

Jones, K.R., Watson, J.E.M., Possingham, H.P. & Klein, C.J. (2016). Incorporating climate change into spatial conservation prioritisation: a review. Biological Conservation, 194, 121–130.

Klein, C.J., Beher, J., Chaloupka, M., Hamann, M., Limpus, C. & Possingham, H.P. (2016). Prioritisation of marine turtle management projects: a protocol that accounts for threats to different life history stages. Conservation Letters. doi: 10.1111/conl.12324

Kuempel, C.D., Chauvenet, A.L.M. & Possingham, H.P. (2016). Equitable representation of ecoregions is slowly improving despite strategic planning shortfalls. Conservation Letters. doi: 10.1111/conl.12298

Liggins, L., Treml, E.A., Possingham, H.P. & Riginos, C. (2016). Seascape features, rather than dispersal traits, predict spatial genetic patterns in co-distributed reef fishes. Journal of Biogeography, 43, 256–267.

Lindenmayer, D.B., Gibbons, P., Bourke, M., Burgman, M., Dickman, C.R., Ferrier, S., Lourival, R., Watts, M., Mourão, G.M. & Possingham, H.P. (2016). Systematic zoning applied to Biosphere Reserves: protecting the Pantanal wetland heritage. In: Tropical Wetland Management: The South-American Pantanal and the International Experience (ed. Ioris, A.A.R.). pp. 135–171.

Maron, M., Ives, C.D., Kujala, H., Bull, J.W., Maseyk, F.J.F., Bekessy, S., Gordon, A., Watson, J.E.M., Lentini, P.E., Gibbons, P., Possingham, H.P., Hobbs, R.J., Keith, D.A., Wintle, B.A. & Evans, M.C. (2016). Taming a wicked problem: resolving controversies in biodiversity offsetting. BioScience, biw038.

Martin, T.G., Camaclang, A.E., Possingham, H.P., Maguire, L.A. & Chadès, I. (2016). Timing of protection of critical habitat matters. Conservation Letters. doi: 10.1111/conl.12266

Maseyk, F., Barea, L., Stephens, R., Possingham, H., Dutson, G. & Maron, M. (2016). A disaggregated biodiversity offset accounting model to improve estimation of ecological equivalency and no net loss. Biological Conservation. doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2016.10.016

Maseyk, F.J.F., Mackay, A.D., Possingham, H.P., Dominati, E.J. & Buckley, Y.M. (2016). Managing natural capital stocks for the provision of ecosystem services. Conservation Letters. doi: 10.1111/conl.12242

Mazor, T., Beger, M., McGowan, J., Possingham, H.P. & Kark, S. (2016). The value of migration information for conservation prioritization of sea turtles in the Mediterranean. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 25, 540–552.

McAlpine, C., Catterall, C.P., Nally, R.M., Lindenmayer, D., Reid, J.L., Holl, K.D., Bennett, A.F., Runting, R.K., Wilson, K., Hobbs, R.J., Seabrook, L., Cunningham, S., Moilanen, A., Maron, M., Shoo, L., Lunt, I., Vesk, P., Rumpff, L., Martin, T.G., Thomson, J. & Possingham, H. (2016). Integrating plant- and animal-based perspectives for more effective restoration of biodiversity. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 14, 37–45.


McDonald-Madden, E., Sabbadin, R., Game, E.T., Baxter, P.W.J., Chadès, I. & Possingham, H.P. (2016). Using food-web theory to conserve ecosystems. Nature Communications, 7, 10245.


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. (2016). Integrating research using animal-borne telemetry with the needs of conservation management. Journal of Applied Ecology. doi: 10.1111/1365-2664.12755

McGowan, J. & Possingham, H.P. (2016). Commentary: linking movement ecology with wildlife management and conservation. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 4, 30.

McGowan, J., Possingham, H.P. & Anthony, K. (2016). Conservation: don’t let climate crush coral efforts. Nature, 536, 396–396.

Moore, C.H., Radford, B.T., Possingham, H.P., Heyward, A.J., Stewart, R.R., Watts, M.E., Prescott, J., Newman, S.J., Harvey, E.S., Fisher, R., Bryce, C.W., Lowe, R.J., Berry, O., Espinosa-Gayosso, A., Sporer, E. & Saunders, T. (2016). Improving spatial prioritisation for remote marine regions: optimising biodiversity conservation and sustainable development trade-offs. Scientific Reports, 6, 32029.

Polak, T., Watson, J.E.M., Bennett, J.R., Possingham, H.P., Fuller, R.A. & Carwardine, J. (2016). Balancing ecosystem and threatened species representation in protected areas and implications for nations achieving global conservation goals. Conservation Letters. doi: 10.1111/conl.12268

Robinson, C.J., Renwick, A.R., May, T., Gerrard, E., Foley, R., Battaglia, M., Possingham, H., Griggs, D. & Walker, D. (2016). Indigenous benefits and carbon offset schemes: an Australian case study. Environmental Science & Policy, 56, 129–134.

Runge, C.A., Tulloch, A.I.T., Possingham, H.P., Tulloch, V.J.D. & Fuller, R.A. (2016). Incorporating dynamic distributions into spatial prioritization. Diversity and Distributions, 22, 332–343.

Runting, R.K., Meijaard, E., Abram, N.K., Wells, J.A., Gaveau, D.L.A., Ancrenaz, M., Possingham, H.P., Wich, S.A., Ardiansyah, F., Gumal, M.T., Ambu, L.N. & Wilson, K.A. (2016). Corrigendum: alternative futures for Borneo show the value of integrating economic and conservation targets across borders. Nature Communications, 7, 12018.

Tulloch, A.I.T., Sutcliffe, P., Naujokaitis-Lewis, I., Tingley, R., Brotons, L., Ferraz, K.M.P.M.B., Possingham, H., Guisan, A. & Rhodes, J.R. (2016). Conservation planners tend to ignore improved accuracy of modelled species distributions to focus on multiple threats and ecological processes. Biological Conservation, 199, 157–171.

Tulloch, V.J.D., Brown, C.J., Possingham, H.P., Jupiter, S.D., Maina, J.M. & Klein, C. (2016). Improving conservation outcomes for coral reefs affected by future oil palm development in Papua New Guinea. Biological Conservation, 203, 43–54.

Venter, O., Sanderson, E.W., Magrach, A., Allan, J.R., Beher, J., Jones, K.R., Possingham, H.P., Laurance, W.F., Wood, P., Fekete, B.M., Levy, M.A. & Watson, J.E.M. (2016). Global terrestrial Human Footprint maps for 1993 and 2009. Scientific Data, 3, 160067.


Venter, O., Sanderson, E.W., Magrach, A., Allan, J.R., Beher, J., Jones, K.R., Possingham, H.P., Laurance, W.F., Wood, P., Fekete, B.M., Levy, M.A. & Watson, J.E.M. (2016). Sixteen years of change in the global terrestrial human footprint and implications for biodiversity conservation. Nature Communications, 7, 12558.


Watson, J.E.M., Darling, E.S., Venter, O., Maron, M., Walston, J., Possingham, H.P., Dudley, N., Hockings, M., Barnes, M. & Brooks, T.M. (2016). Bolder science needed now for protected areas. Conservation Biology, 30, 243–248.

Hugh is The Chief Scientist of The Nature Conservancy, the world’s largest environmental non-government organization. He is based in Washington DC and Brisbane, Australia.

Aside from his day job, Hugh has a variety of broader public roles advising policy makers, conservation groups and managers by sitting on committees and boards including: The Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists (founding member), founding editor of Conservation Letters (an international scientific journal), The Myer Foundation Environment committee and several Environmental NGO scientific advisory committees. He and Dr Barry Traill wrote “The Brigalow Declaration”, used by Premier Beattie to halve land clearing in Queensland thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Australia by more than 5% per annum and saving an area the size of Portugal from conversion into farmland.

In 2016, Hugh was elected a Foreign Associate of the US National Academy of Sciences, the most prestigious science academy in the world. He is one of less than 500 foreign associates – and the only one resident in Queensland.

The Possingham lab uses mathematics to formulate and solve problems for saving plants, animals and ecosystems. They developed the most widely used conservation planning software in the world. Marxan was used to underpin the rezoning of the Great Barrier Reef and is currently used in over 150 countries by over 6000 users – from the UK and USA to Madagascar and Brazil – to build the world’s marine and terrestrial landuse plans. Marxan can be used to achieve conservation outcomes while maximizing development opportunities. In addition, many governments and ENGOs use the group’s research for the allocation of funding to threatened species recovery and solving other conservation conundrums.

Hugh has coauthored 560+ refereed publications covered by the Web of Science (27 in Science, Nature or PNAS). Until recently he directed two national research centres across 11 institutions ($15 million per annum) and he has supervised (or is supervising) 82 PhD students and 53 postdoctoral fellows.

He has one psychological disorder, 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.


Geraldine Henrich-Koenis
Media Contact
Phone: (703) 841-3939
E-mail: ghenrich-koenis@tnc.org


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