Conservation research is not happening in the right places

A wake-up call to all conservation scientists

Conservation research is not being done in the countries where it is most needed, and this will likely undermine efforts to preserve global biodiversity. If that sounds like a harsh judgement, consider the facts.

We analysed over 10,000 conservation science papers from over 1,000 journals published since 2014. We then compared the countries where these studies were done (and by whom) with where most of the world’s biodiversity is found. What we found suggested a massive mismatch in terms of need and effort (Wilson et al, 2016; and see Figure 1).

If you dig a little deeper, it gets worse. The science conducted in the countries with the most biodiversity is often not led by researchers based in those countries. Scientists based in biodiversity-rich countries are also underrepresented in important international forums.

What this adds up to is a widespread bias in the field of conservation science. If research is biased away from the most biodiverse areas then this will accentuate the impacts of the global biodiversity crisis and reduce our capacity to protect and manage the natural ecosystems that underpin human wellbeing.

Biases in conservation science will also undermine our ability to meet Target 19 of the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD). Target 19 states that: “By 2020, knowledge, the science base and technologies relating to biodiversity, its values, functioning, status and trends, and the consequences of its loss, are improved, widely shared and transferred, and applied.”

Our comprehensive analysis of publishing trends in conservation science literature suggest we won’t meet this target if these biases aren’t addressed.

Information sharing is also limited by the fact that most of the science being done in the countries with the greatest needs is not being published in open-access journals.

So, what should we do about it? A range of solutions is needed. These include reforming open access publishing policies, enhancing science-communication strategies, changing authorattribution practices, improving representation in international processes, and strengthening infrastructure and human capacity for research in countries where it is most needed.

Of course, there are massive challenges in attempting to initiate any of these solutions. However, an important starting point is for researchers to examine their own agendas and focus on areas with the greatest need. One thing we can say for certain, we won’t change the situation by simply ignoring it.

Changing of the guard

Associate Professor Kerrie Wilson.

Associate Professor Kerrie Wilson.

A big hello to all readers of Decision Point. As you might have gathered from the byline in this story, I’m CEED’s Director. I’m hoping my name might be familiar to some of you as I’ve been involved with many CEED research projects over the years (and have authored several Decision Point stories in that time).

One prominent (and ongoing) area of research involves landuse planning and conservation in Kalimantan in Indonesia (see Decision Point #86) in collaboration with our long-term collaborator Dr Erik Meijaard. However, with Hugh Possingham’s departure to The Nature Conservancy, Mick McCarthy and I have been given the honour of carrying on his fantastic work in steering the good ship CEED.

Hugh and I have been close collaborators for over 15 years, so I’ve seen first hand his tireless dedication to environmental decision science and to growing Decision Point. We are all proud of what he has achieved, and we hope as CEED’s new leadership team that we can build on that legacy.

If you’re a new friend to CEED or a long-time associate, I hope you’ll continue to support us and our efforts to explore new ways of making better decisions for better enviornmental outcomes. Of course, the best way to keep in contact with our work is to open that link whenever you hear there’s a new issue of Decision Point available.

More info: Kerrie Wilson



Wilson KA, NA Auerbach, K Sam, AG Magini, ASL Moss, SD Langhans, et al. (2016) Conservation Research Is Not Happening Where It Is Most Needed. PLoS Biol 14(3): e1002413. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.100241 

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