Managers drive biodiversity conservation success

Conserving biodiversity, that is the full range of wild nature, often requires trying out many methods to see what works best. While the success of a conservation project is usually determined by comparing different conditions, methods and techniques, it turns out that the human component also plays surprisingly important role in the outcome of projects. We have a perspective paper in Biological Conservation, led by by Richard Primack from the Boston University, in which we highlight the importance of considering the human element of conservation when evaluating success and designing future programs. Meaningful consideration of the human dimensions in conservation will require an interdisciplinary approach. We make a case that greater integration between the social and natural sciences will improve our understanding of these systems and lead to better results.

So what made us decide to write this perspective article (other than our collective interest in the human dimensions of conservation of course)?

Our perspective article was inspired by an article that Dr Anna Sher published with colleagues in a special issue of wetlands. Anna and colleagues explored the impact of the characteristics of managers and managing organizations on vegetation restoration projects in the southwestern USA. They evaluated 243 sites where invasive tamarisk trees had been removed, measuring the recovery of native vegetation and using multivariate analysis to determine what factors predicted success (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Four stages of restoration in river woodlands invaded by tamarisk in Western USA

Along with the typical predictive measures such as climate and removal method, they included quantitative human data from surveys and interviews with the managers of all of the sites.  While environmental characteristics like temperature and precipitation were important in the successful recovery of the ecosystem, the human variables explained an even larger percentage of the variability in outcomes.  Perhaps most importantly, they found that the more collaborators there were on a project, such as different government agencies, non-profits and scientists, the better the outcomes for the plant community. These findings could radically change how conservation projects are carried out and evaluated. Human dimensions and results from other social science disciplines should be integrated much more into research designs to promote their successful implementation.

Take home message? Simple – go out and make friends and do some interdisciplinary research – if you are a social scientist find some ecologists and similarly if your an ecologist go find a social scientist. The answers to conservation success are likely to be a mix of the human and natural. We must explore both in tandem.

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