Open access teaching materials for evidence-based practice in conservation

In their latest review, Harriet Downey and educators from around the world call for a wider teaching of the tools and skills needed to facilitate evidence-based conservation.

A version of this post is available in Finnish, French, Japanese and Spanish.

Did you know that there are over 12,000 articles published annually in the field of ecology alone? The last 20 years has seen a huge increase in the amount of information available to conservationists, but is all this extra information leading to people making better decisions?

It has been shown that often those undertaking conservation and land management actions do not use this scientific evidence in their decision-making. This is often not due to unwillingness but to a myriad of reasons, such as lack of time, access and understanding (e.g. Rafidimanantsoa et al. 2018; Walsh et al. 2019).  

Not incorporating scientific evidence with other important factors can lead to bad practice and poor decisions as well as wasting time and resources, which are already scarce in conservation. For example, a recent synthesis of the effectiveness of translocations of large carnivores to reduce human-wildlife conflict showed that this action is often ineffective or even harmful. Cleaning birds after oils spills comes at a huge cost, despite studies showing that it does not increase survival of oiled birds or their offspring.

Even where there are many studies conducted for particular actions, they may not answer what we truly want to know. For example, bat boxes are frequently advised as a mitigation tool. However, whilst there are many studies measuring usage, few measure population responses which are what we really want to know, and therefore we cannot be sure that they are an effective mitigation technique.

bat box_all
Bat boxes of many designs have been recommended as a mitigation technique for populations affected by development, however, there are very few studies that measure the outcome we are interested in.

Evidence-based practice aims to aid more effective decision-making by combining the scientific evidence with indigenous and local knowledge, experience, as well as resource, policy and financial constraints.

Applying evidence-based practice successfully requires understanding how to access, interpret and apply scientific evidence along with other knowledge and constraining factors. However, it is often not a core skill of undergraduate, graduate or professional development courses. The next generation of conservation and ecosystem managers need a thorough understanding of how to make evidence-based decisions, critical thinking and the value of evidence synthesis. As educators, if we do not make these issues a core part of what we teach, we may be failing to prepare our students to make an effective contribution to conservation practice.

To help, a global team of educators have come together to create a series of open access materials to aid teaching the core skills of evidence-based conservation. These materials are available in multiple languages in Applied Ecology Resources.

So far, 117 educators from 23 countries have acknowledged the importance of this and are already teaching or have agreed to teach evidence-based conservation. This includes 145 undergraduate, postgraduate or professional development courses. We call for greater adoption of the teaching of evidence-based conservation and suggest that providing online teaching materials could facilitate broader inclusion in curricula. Over time we hope these skills will become core teaching not only in conservation, but in other fields too. You can find a link to the materials in their original formats here: http://bit.ly/Evidence-in-Conservation-Teaching

We are still hoping to translate our teaching materials into more languages. If you are interested in helping, please get in touch with Harriet Downey at hd438@cam.ac.uk

Read the full review: “Training future generations to deliver evidence-based conservation and ecosystem management” in Issue 2:1 of Ecological Solutions and Evidence.

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