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Many people contribute to the development of Marxan software, documentation, training materials, and research. Several people at the University of Queensland's Ecology Centre particularly in the Spatial Ecology Lab are working on Marxan related projects. 

Marxan Community Member Feature:

An interview with Matt Watts

Matt Watts is a computer programmer and systems analyst working for Professor Hugh Possingham at The Ecology Centre, University of Queensland, Australia. His research interest is in systematic conservation planning software and decision support systems. He is currently working on developing new versions of Marxan with increased functionality.

 Photo of Matt Watts "I've been a computer hacker since age 8."

Question: How did you get involved in computer programming?
 TRS80 Computer- photo courtesy of Marcin Wichary

Matt: I have been a computer hacker since the age of 8 years, starting off with a TRS80. The computer I have now has over a million times as much power. There has been a mind boggling increase in computing power and associated technologies during this time.

I was originally studying physics at University of New England, but then discovered the ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network owned by the US DOD) and the world of networked mainframe computers.  This was in the days before the internet, and Tim Berners Lee was still designing the world's first web server. I found computing science was much more fun than writing dusty old physics equations. I consider myself an old school computer hacker and get annoyed when compared to modern "IT" people, who I consider hacks, not hackers.

Question: How did you get involved with conservation?

Protected, public forest land in Australia. Photo: Lindsay KircherMatt: During my time at UNE, I became interested in conservation, and kicked around the North East Forests of New South Wales, attempting to protect pristine old growth forests from the ravages of forestry. I became more and more interested in the conservation science and began to think about how to scientifically and mathematically identify which areas are the most valuable for biodiversity.

Eventually, one of my tutors introduced me to a scientist, Robert Pressey, who was setting up a research and development program which was focused on solving exactly this problem.

I worked with Bob for eleven years; developing software concerned with minimum set reserve selection algorithms, land use simulation and interactive decision support systems. During this time, we used our software in dramatic showdowns over the future of millions of hectares of public land. 

Question: Are there any people that have inspired or influenced you particularly (in either field)?

Matt: Like millions of other young scientists, I was influenced by the work of Albert Einstein. I was also fascinated by the more obscure visionaries John von Neumann and Alan Turing. These men were the fathers of modern physics, mathematics and computing science, and I was inspired by their achievements to use a multidisciplinary approach in my work and to approach problem solving using unconventional means.

Later I was influenced by the acclaimed conservation biologists Bob Pressey and Hugh Possingham, whom I consider myself extremely fortunate to work with. Their body of work in systematic conservation planning continues to be a huge influence.

Question: What is the most unusual use of software that you have heard about?

Matt: Marxan itself is unusual. The science of operations research (which includes simulated annealing, of which Marxan is a derivative) was developed first to create the English penny post system, then to make more efficient decisions in logistics and training to support the allied war effort in world war two. I think it's pretty interesting that we are now applying the methodologies used to facilitate the manufacture of nuclear bombs to the field of systematic conservation planning.

Question: What has your best software related memory or experience been?

Matt: My best memory is the satisfaction of over one million hectares of land being converted from intensive logging to permanent protected areas as a result of the application of our software, a spectacular outcome. I think the best is yet to come and I look forward to future applications of the software we are developing now, and how the face and fate of the world will be changed.



Marxan at Work
Several Marxan courses have been held in Australia and abroad to introduce practitioners to the tool.

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