Are we wasting resources on "blind" conservation efforts? The disconnection between science and practical management in conservation and the reluctance of some conservation managers to apply expertise from their own and other projects has led to an alarming lack of evidence-based practices, causing ineffective resource allocation and hindering progress toward biodiversity targets. Let's explore how this issue has manifested and what can be done to resolve it.
With the term "blind" conservation I refer to the lack of verifiable, evidence-based conservation efforts, the lack of learning from other projects' expertise and the implementation gap between academic research in conservation biology and its application in conservation planning and management.
Lacking Verifiable Evidence
In a study of UK conservation projects in the early 2000s, a shocking 77% of 61 projects relied solely on anecdotal evidence rather than scientific data. Similar trends have been observed in other countries. Relying on qualitative interpretations can result in ineffective decision-making, lack of progress tracking, and no replicability.
This problem persists. Why?
- Evidence-based management often requires advanced skills, sophisticated tools, and high-level data analysis, which are lacking in many conservation organizations.
- There is often not enough time, finances, or trained staff available for data analysis, synthesis, and publication.
Developments over the last 20 years
Over the last 20 years, several key initiatives have been established, shifting the focus towards education and training on how to apply conservation evidence in project planning. However, these efforts have not yet matched the level of emphasis in the literature with practical implementation.
To improve the situation, conservation practitioners need to ensure that evidence is not only fully considered during the project planning stage but that data is consistently collected, documented, and made accessible. Open science practices can provide solutions, but the implementation gap remains a critical issue. For example, many conservation guidelines are outdated, lack proper methodology, and fail to provide sufficient evidence to support recommended actions.
Two key challenges in the conservation field are the pros and cons of open-access publishing and the allocation of resources in conservation biology. Open-access publishing has made conservation data more accessible but has created a new problem for researchers from the Global South or smaller conservation projects who cannot afford to publish their data. As a result, a new barrier to data publication and sharing has emerged.
The Importance of Monitoring
To maximize the impact of our limited resources, we must invest in evidence-based strategies and improve monitoring and reporting efforts. Monitoring is the process of gathering information about a variable (e.g., population size, habitat condition, etc.) to assess its state. Short- and long-term monitoring activities are needed to measure the success of conservation projects.
However, monitoring programs often face criticism due to poor design, unclear methodologies, inadequate communication of results and too short time periods. These flaws can result in poor decision-making, waste of funds, failure to detect problems before they escalate, and failure to capitalize on conservation success.
Overcoming the Science-Management Implementation Gap in Conservation Efforts
The science-management implementation gap remains a challenge in the world of conservation, where research results struggle to find their way into practical conservation strategies. What are the barriers to accessing and using research data and exploring recent developments in conservation science?
The implementation gap is primarily due to a lack of understanding of the value of research data, limited access to expertise and literature, and funding restrictions. A lack of communication between researchers and practitioners exacerbates the problem, resulting, for example, in important genetic data and concerns being overlooked in policy and management decisions.
Addressing this gap requires better education and training for conservation practitioners, improved communication channels, and increased support for integrating research data into management plans.
Access to data is another major issue, with many researchers unwilling or unable to share their research. Long-term preservation of research data is essential, and policies should mandate data sharing through public archives.
Despite advancements in open-access publishing, the quality and usability of archived datasets remain inconsistent. Researchers must be incentivised and trained to improve data-sharing practices and data quality. In addition, the utility of big data in conservation needs to be enhanced by strengthening data quality control and management.
Towards Evidence-Based Conservation
To address the issue of "blind" conservation, we must bridge the gap between science and practical management. We can achieve this by:
- Investing in verifiable, evidence-based strategies.
- Encouraging the exchange of knowledge between academics and conservation practitioners.
- Designing and implementing effective monitoring programs.
- Making data analysis, synthesis, and publication a higher priority and more accessible and timely.
By addressing these challenges, we can work towards more effective and evidence-based conservation efforts that will yield tangible progress in the fight to protect our planet's biodiversity.
Addressing the lack of available and reliable data is vital to enhance conservation efforts. By prioritizing verifiable and evidence-based conservation, improving monitoring, and focusing on data analysis, synthesis, curation, and publishing, we can bridge the implementation gap and ensure a brighter future for biodiversity conservation and, thus future human generations.