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SiteOpt: An open-source R-package for site selection and portfolio optimization

September 22, 2021

Conservation planning involves identifying and selecting actions to best achieve objectives for managing natural, social and cultural resources. Conservation problems are often high dimensional when specified as combinatorial or portfolio problems and when multiple competing objectives are considered at varying spatial and temporal scales. Although analytical techniques such as modern portfolio theory (MPT) have been developed to address these complex problems, open source computational platforms for executing these approaches are not readily available. We present a user-friendly R-package called SiteOpt for optimization of binary decisions while explicitly considering environmental or economic uncertainty and the risk tolerance of decision makers. We illustrate the package with spatially-explicit site selection problems (i.e. spatial conservation planning), including an option for divestment (i.e. selling assets), when accounting for future uncertainties in designing conservation areas. The tool is applicable to both spatial and non-spatial problems, such as budget allocation or species selection. Constraints for spatial design and spatial dependencies (e.g. connectivity among sites) can also be specified in SiteOpt. Users can optimize site selection based on two competing objectives by solving for the Nash bargaining solution. Importantly, by quantifying uncertainty and asset spatial correlation, a measure of risk can be included as one such objective to be traded off against portfolio benefits. Thus, SiteOpt can be used to explicitly manage risk in portfolio-based spatial optimization. This tool facilitates decisions in a variety of problem settings, including reserve selection, invasive species management, allocation of law enforcement activities for conservation, budget allocation and asset selection under uncertainty and risk.