News and Notes

Logic Puzzles for Conserving Biodiversity: How Spatial Planning Can Save Our Species

“With the biodiversity of our planet mapped carefully and soon, the bulk of the Earth’s species, including ourselves, can be saved.” —E.O. Wilson

Half-Earth Project Consulting Scientists and Spatial Prioritization Experts: Scott Rinnan and Jen McGowan
Scott Rinnan and Jen McGowan are both Half-Earth Project Consulting Scientists and their work with the Map of Life and the Half-Earth Project directly contributes to the Half-Earth Map. They both use the data for spatial prioritization and conservation decision-making. In his book, Half-Earth, E.O. Wilson makes the case for protecting half the earth in order to save 85% of species which will maintain ecosystem functions. The Half-Earth Project is dedicated to determining “which half” of the Earth should be protected. Spatial Planning is a part of the answer.

In this video chat, meet Jen McGowan and Scott Rinnan, spatial conservation scientists who are using their math and computing skills to save biodiversity. Use this video to introduce you and your students to this important field of conservation.


In this full-length interview, Scott and Jen take us through the details of spatial planning and give us some real-world examples of how it can apply to conservation work in Wisconsin and in a coral marine reserve in Malaysia. The activities we developed for this topic were inspired by this interview and the work of Scott and Jen.


More about Scott: Scott Rinnan is a Post-Doctoral Associate in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at Yale University with a Ph.D. in Quantitative Ecology and Resource Management. Scott is working to identify Half-Earth conservation priorities that give us the best opportunity to protect the most species. His research focuses on spatial conservation planning and developing indicators that track conservation progress. Scott is MOL’s Half-Earth Project manager and team coordinator.

More About Jen: Jennifer McGowan, PhD is an associate research scientist with the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Yale University and a Spatial Planning Technical Coordinator at The Nature Conservancy. Her research interest lies in developing tailored decision-support frameworks to guide conservation investments on the land, freshwater and sea. Jennifer is dedicated to helping get decision-support tools into the planning processes that shape how the world prioritizes biodiversity. She brings her global conservation planning perspective and years of capacity-building expertise with governments and NGOs around the world to the Half-Earth Project.

The Role of Spatial Planning in Conserving Biodiversity: Activity Series

This spatial planning activity series asks students to apply the spatial planning principles shared by Scott Rinnan and Jen McGowan in three activities. First, students will explore the Marine Reserve Network seen in Jen McGowan’s animation. By the end of this activity, students will learn what it means to make “efficient” conservation decisions and will have applied this principle to save as many marine species as possible. Then students will progress to using a grid and the Marxan simulator to find efficient spatial planning solutions. Through this activity series, students will explore how to efficiently save species and maintain the highest level of biodiversity possible using spatial planning principles. Each of these activities can be done independently but are recommended as a progressive series. For more details, check out the series link above and the instructor background included in the Appendix.

Series A Activities
Series A includes:

  • • Spatial Planning Background Information
  • • Activity A.1 Saving a Coral Reef: Introduction to Spatial Planning Approaches
  • • Activity A. 2 Landscape Features and Conservation: Mapping Species with Grids and Units
  • • Activity A.3 Testing the Effectiveness of Conservation Decisions: The Interactive Marxan Simulator

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