October 27, 2013

Do the Results from Academic Research affect Conservation Management?

Depending on where the managers are and what resources they have, it is possible that research, past and present, has no effect on the management of threatened and endangered species.  In fact, it has been found that few recovery plans are created using scientific research to inform management decisions (1, 2).  Most recovery plans end up being modified versions of previous plans (1-3).  In countries such as the United States, individuals creating and instituting recovery plans are likely to have internet access and thus the ability to research published journal articles to inform management practices.  However, it can take four or more years for an article to be published (4).  This would exclude any recent research from being incorporated into a recovery plan unless the individuals instituting the recovery plan and the scientific researchers are in direct communication.  Unfortunately, many conservation programs in less developed countries have little or no computer access at all.  To design an ideal recovery plan based on current research it is imperative that scientific literature be made accessible to individuals creating recovery plans (3, 5).  This may mean access to computers to find articles online.  It can also be accomplished by accessing hard copies of journals from a local library.  Unfortunately, time constraints may prevent adequate review of scientific literature when immediate action is needed. 
Another problem encountered when designing recovery plans is the lack of research directly pertaining to the conservation problems in question.  Academics have approached questions from scientific perspectives that can be impractical for management (6).  To make research more applicable for conservation managers it is imperative that academic researchers communicate with them (3, 7-9).  Prior to performing a study scientists should consult managers to ensure they are addressing an important, informative question (10, 11).  It is also important for managers to reach out and ask scientists for information that could improve a management plan.  This could prevent unnecessary actions from being incorporated into management plans, and help ensure that no future modifications would need to be made because of known issues (11).   In fact, academic scientists have been urged to get more involved in management themselves (6).  This would be beneficial to both parties in helping to alleviate these issues.
For managers that have access to scientific articles and aim to utilize their results in recovery plans, it is important for scientific articles to clearly express the results, and the implications of the results, by providing management recommendations.  Fortunately, recommendations at the conclusion of a journal article are becoming more common (12).  This information could be very informative, particularly as the number of genetic studies for conservation has increased.  Individuals that do not have a background in genetics would benefit greatly from clear recommendations in articles, and when genetic management is suggested as a recovery strategy it is often given high priority in recovery plans (13).  Unfortunately, genetic studies have not been used very much in recovery plans in the past (9, 13, 14), again emphasizing the need for thorough research of scientific literature when creating recovery plans.
There is still much to do to make sure recovery plans are, or are able, to incorporate scientific research into plans.  Hopefully, relations between academic scientists and conservation managers can help create a harmonious melding of information from both sides to benefit species in need.  This may be crucial for the survival of threatened and endangered species.

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2.         A. S. Pullin, T. M. Knight, Conserv Biol 19, 1989 (Dec, 2005).
3.         W. J. Sutherland, A. S. Pullin, P. M. Dolman, T. M. Knight, Trends Ecol Evol 19, 305 (Jun, 2004).
4.         I. Fazey, J. Fischer, D. B. Lindenmayer, Biodivers Conserv 14, 917 (Apr, 2005).
5.         T. Sunderland, J. Sunderland-Groves, P. Shanley, B. Campbell, Biotropica 41, 549 (Sep, 2009).
6.         T. Whitten, D. Holmes, K. MacKinnon, Conserv Biol 15, 1 (Feb, 2001).
7.         W. J. Sutherland et al.J Appl Ecol 43, 617 (2006).
8.         J. D. Shaw, J. R. U. Wilson, D. M. Richardson, Biol Invasions 12, 4077 (Dec, 2010).
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11.       G. M. Mace, A. Purvis, Mol Ecol 17, 9 (Jan, 2008).
12.       D. J. Flaspohler, B. R. Bub, B. A. Kaplin, Conserv Biol 14, 1898 (2000).
13.       L. C. Moyle, J. R. Stinchcombe, B. R. Hudgens, W. F. Morris, Anim Biodivers Conserv 26, 85 (2003, 2003).
14.       J. Stinchcombe et al.Conserv Ecol 6,  (Dec, 2002).