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The past and future role of conservation science in saving biodiversity

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Abstract

Global biodiversity losses continue despite tremendous growth in the volume of conservation science and many local successes. Research that can achieve conservation science's aims—arresting declines in biodiversity and preventing extinctions—is therefore of ever greater importance. Here, we ask whether conservation science, as currently performed, is progressing in such a way as to maximize its impact. We present a simple framework for how effective conservation research could progress, from identifying problems to diagnosing their proximate and ultimate causes, and from proposing, to designing, implementing, and testing responses. We then demonstrate that for three well‐known examples—South Asian vultures, whooping cranes, and bycatch of procellariform seabirds—published studies appear to follow this sequence, with considerable benefits. However, for a representative sample of the wider conservation literature, we find no evidence of such a progression. Instead, the vast majority of papers remain focused on describing the state of nature or on mechanisms directly causing changes, with very little research on designing or implementing conservation responses. This lack of research on the sorts of questions that might most help conservation science deliver its stated mission strongly suggests we will struggle to translate the huge increase in research activity into real‐world benefits.
Received: 28 August 2019 Revised: 21 March 2020 Accepted: 24 March 2020
DOI: 10.1111/conl.12720
POLICY PERSPECTIVE
The past and future role of conservation science in saving
biodiversity
David R Williams1,2 Andrew Balmford3David S Wilcove4
1Sustainability Research Institute, School of
Earth and Environment, University of Leeds,
Leeds, UK
2Bren School of Environmental Science and
Management, University of California Santa
Barbara, California
3Conservation Science Group, Department of
Zoology, University of Cambridge,
Cambridge, UK
4Woodrow Wilson School of Public and
International Affairs and Department of
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton
University, Princeton, New Jersey
Correspondence
David R Williams, Sustainability Research
Institute, School of Earth and Environment,
University of Leeds, Leeds, LS2 9JT.UK.
Email: d.r.williams@leeds.ac.uk
Abstract
Global biodiversity losses continue despite tremendous growth in the volume of con-
servation science and many local successes. Research that can achieve conserva-
tion science’s aims—arresting declines in biodiversity and preventing extinctions—
is therefore of ever greater importance. Here, we ask whether conservation science,
as currently performed, is progressing in such a way as to maximize its impact. We
present a simple framework for how effective conservation research could progress,
from identifying problems to diagnosing their proximate and ultimate causes, and
from proposing, to designing, implementing, and testing responses. We then demon-
strate that for three well-known examples—South Asian vultures, whooping cranes,
and bycatch of procellariform seabirds—published studies appear to follow this
sequence, with considerable benefits. However, for a representative sample of the
wider conservation literature, we find no evidence of such a progression. Instead,
the vast majority of papers remain focused on describing the state of nature or on
mechanisms directly causing changes, with very little research on designing or imple-
menting conservation responses. This lack of research on the sorts of questions that
might most help conservation science deliver its stated mission strongly suggests we
will struggle to translate the huge increase in research activity into real-world benefits.
KEYWORDS
albatross, bycatch, conservation action, conservation responses, effectiveness, literature review, research
policy, research priorities, threats, vultures, whooping crane
1INTRODUCTION
As human populations and per capita consumption continue
to grow (Tilman et al., 2017; United Nations, Department of
Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division 2019), the
loss of wild nature and the benefits we derive from it are
accelerating (Brondizio, Settele, J., Díaz, & Ngo, 2019; Rip-
ple et al., 2017; Tittensor et al., 2014). Conserving biodiver-
sity in the face of these increasing human pressures is one
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original
work is properly cited.
© 2020 The Authors. Conservation Letters published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
of the great challenges of the 21st century and at the heart of
the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) Aichi targets
(UNEP CBD 2010) and of Sustainable Development Goal 15
(General Assembly of the United Nations 2015).
Since its inception, conservation biology (now more explic-
itly interdisciplinary and increasingly labeled “conservation
science”) has been characterized as a mission-oriented disci-
pline aiming to provide the scientific underpinnings to address
this challenge (Soulé & Wilcox 1980). In the landmark 1986
Conservation Letters. 2020;e12720. wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/conl 1of7
https://doi.org/10.1111/conl.12720
2of7 WILLIAMS ET AL.
book Conservation Biology: The Science of Scarcity and
Diversity, Michael Soulé (Soulé, 1986) warned that if con-
servation biology “becomes isolated in the mental world of
academia, it will be of little use. Its prescriptions will not
be informed by the real-world problems of the people
who are most involved and affected.” Three decades on, the
enterprise of conservation science (measured by publication
rates—Figure S1 in the Supporting Information) is an order of
magnitude larger, and we are approaching the reassessment
of the CBD’s targets. It therefore seems reasonable to ask,
as action becomes ever more urgent, how well conservation
science research is contributing to the development of “pre-
scriptions” that can address the “real-world problems” facing
biodiversity.
We examine this question by mapping the field’s develop-
ment against a simple framework, whereby solution-oriented
conservation science emerges from a progressively deeper
understanding of the dynamics of threatening processes
and towards the design and testing of interventions to
address them (Figure 1). Research might start by describing
the changing state of nature (say, a change in a species’
population size) and then move on (upwards sloping arrow
in Figure 1) to identify the proximate mechanism (sensu
Balmford et al., 2009) underpinning that change. But problem
diagnosis alone is insufficient: to be useful, conservation
science needs to support action (Caughley, 1994; Gibbons,
Wilson, & Green, 2011). Research should therefore—in
collaboration with conservation practitioners and other
stakeholders—propose and design responses to undesirable
changes, report on their implementation, and test their effec-
tiveness (lower sloping arrow), while continuing to refine
our understanding of the threatening mechanism (lower
horizontal arrow). However, if targeting the mechanism of
change is unlikely to be effective or efficient, research should
progress to identifying and understanding the source and ulti-
mate driver of the threat (upper horizontal arrows), and then
proposing and designing driver-focused interventions which
can be undertaken, monitored, and refined (dashed arrows).
To see if this framework reflects reality, we reviewed the
peer-reviewed literature (i.e., excluding non peer-reviewed
reports and management documents) pertaining to three
well-known examples where targeted research unequivocally
helped address real-world problems. In the case of the mas-
sive decline of South Asian vulture populations, we found
that successful mission-oriented conservation science did
indeed follow this pattern. Early papers concentrated on quan-
tifying dramatic population declines in vulture populations
(Figure 2a). Establishing the threatening mechanism (inciden-
tal poisoning by diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory veterinary
drug) took several years, and research has since refined our
understanding of how and where this drug enters the vulture
food chain. Response-focused work, meanwhile, started
once sources of poisoning were identified, and involved (in
sequence) proposing, designing, implementing, and testing
a range of interventions, including captive breeding, the pro-
vision of uncontaminated carcasses in “vulture restaurants,”
the identification of a safe alternative to diclofenac, and the
establishment of diclofenac-free vulture safe zones. Contin-
ued monitoring suggests declines have now slowed, and some
populations are beginning to recover (Prakash et al., 2019).
These broad trends—with studies becoming progressively
more focused on the sources and underlying drivers of threats;
and shifting towards designing, implementing, and testing
potential responses—are also characteristic of publications
that underpinned the successful conservation of whooping
cranes (Grus americana) and of procellariform seabirds
(Figure 2b, c). The global whooping crane population fell to
15 individuals in a single population by 1938 due to hunting
and habitat loss (French, John, Converse, & Austin, 2019).
Intensive conservation interventions were implemented,
includingthe creation of protected areas, protection from
hunting and human disturbance, captive propagation, and the
establishment of new populations (French et al., 2019). In
each case, conservation actions were supported by intensive
monitoring and the testing of new interventions (Figure 2b;
Data S1 in the Supporting Information). By the winter of
2016–2017, the wild population had grown to 483 individuals
across three populations, although one reintroduction pro-
gram has been halted due to low levels of success (BirdLife
International 2019). Although some procellariform seabirds
have long been imperiled by persecution, invasive predators,
or intrinsically small ranges, major declines throughout the
family were noted in the 1990s (Brothers, 1991). These
declines were traced to extensive mortality caused by birds
following commercial longlining boats and either grabbing
the baited hooks, or being “foul hooked”—with hooks catch-
ing the birds’ wings or bodies (Brothers, 1991). Intensive
research identified the interventions most likely to prevent
this bycatch, including using bird-scaring lines behind boats,
setting lines underwater, setting lines at night, and using
redesigned hooks, and concerted efforts were then made
to engage fishers and their management organizations to
encourage the use of the most effective interventions, with the
most effective measures reducing bycatch by up to 80–100%
(Figure 2c; Cox et al., 2007).
In striking contrast to these case studies, we found little
evidence that conservation science as a whole is developing
a deeper understanding of high-level threats and of conser-
vation responses, or altering its research priorities over time.
When we classified a representative sample of 959 articles
published over the past 20 years in 20 conservation jour-
nals (details in the Supporting Information), we found that
nearly half (43%) of the studies merely described the state
of nature without linking changes to a threatening mecha-
nism at all, and only 10% linked a mechanism to the source
or driver of changes (Figure 3). Moreover, 70% of studies
WILLIAMS ET AL.3of7
(a)
(b)
,
FIGURE 1A research framework for conservation science. A simple framework suggesting how conservation research might progress if it is to
deliver prescriptions for addressing real-world problems. Initial characterization of the changed state of a population, community, or ecosystem needs
to be followed by diagnosing the mechanism responsible (upwards sloping arrow). This then enables research proposing, designing, implementing,
and testing responses to this threat mechanism (lower sloping arrow) and improving our understanding of it (lower horizontal arrow). However,
depending on the nature and urgency of the threat, it is often desirable to establish the source of the threat and quickly develop and test responses to
it, or to identify, and in due course respond to, the underlying driver(s) (dashed arrows)
did not even propose a response to observed changes. We
also found very little evidence that this pattern was chang-
ing over time. There were no significant trends in the propor-
tion of studies investigating different levels of threat across
years (see the Supporting Information for details). The propor-
tion of studies that failed to describe a response did decrease
(from 0.83 to 0.67, chi-squared test for trend in proportions:
𝜒2(1, N=959) =13.62, p=0.002) and there were slight,
although nonsignificant, increases in the proportion of studies
designing and testing responses (from 0.01 to 0.05, and 0.09 to
0.17, respectively; see the Supporting Information for details).
The overall proportion of studies examining different levels
of threats or responses did not vary across years (chi-squared
test of threat category vs. year: 𝜒2(12, N=959) =15.84, p=
0.20; response category vs. year: 𝜒2(16, N=959) =23.11,
p=0.11).
2IS CONSERVATION SCIENCE
ADDRESSING ITS AIMS?
Unlike the literature on South Asian vultures, whooping
cranes or bycatch of procellariform seabirds, our wider sam-
ple is not a longitudinal assessment of research on a specific
issue. We would therefore expect new work on the early stages
of threat identification, characterization, and mitigation, to be
initiated over time, as new threats are discovered and explored.
Nevertheless, if the overall field of conservation science was
progressing as proposed in Figure 1, we would still expect to
see a growing proportion of research investigating underly-
ing drivers and implementing and testing solutions. The rar-
ity of studies examining the sources and drivers of change
implies conservation scientists are not developing an incre-
mentally deeper understanding of the threats affecting wild
4of7 WILLIAMS ET AL.
1999−2003
20032007
2007−2010
2010−2014
2014−2018
1970−1982
1982−1995
1995−2007
2007−2019
1979−1986
1986−1993
1993−2000
2000−2007
2007−2014
Percentage of Studies
Number of Studies
0
5
10
15
20
0
5
10
15
20
0
35
70
0
35
70
0
35
70
0
35
70
Test effectiveness
Implement
Design
Propose
No response
Research on responses
Understand threatening mechanism
Describe state of conservation target
Establish source of mechanism
Research on threats
Establish underlying driver of issue
0
25
50
75
100
0
25
50
75
100
0
25
50
75
100
0
25
50
75
100
0
25
50
75
100
0
25
50
75
100
(a) South Asian vultures (c) Procellariform bycatch
(b) Whooping crane
FIGURE 2Research topics in selected case studies. The number of papers investigating (a) the South Asian vulture crisis, (b) whooping crane
conservation, and (c) the bycatch of procellariform seabirds over time (black lines) and the percentage investigating different levels of threat and
response (shaded bars). Image credits: Birgit Lang, Lauren Anderson and Ferran Sayol.
nature. Moreover, very few studies reached the second step
in our response hierarchy of designing workable, socioeco-
nomically realistic interventions—the minimum requirement
if conservation science is going to effect change in the real
world. Even fewer actually reported on the implementation of
conservation actions—the point at which actual conservation
can begin.
So why is conservation science seemingly failing to per-
form the research most likely to safeguard nature? Perhaps
the simplest explanation is that these issues are extremely
complex and difficult to research. The state of nature and
the mechanisms threatening it can be investigated through
ecology—often the field most familiar to conservation
researchers (Fisher, Balmford, Green, & Trevelyan, 2009). In
contrast, exploring the sources and drivers of those threats,
and designing responses to them, requires interdisciplinary
research, potentially including economics, political science,
human geography, psychology, and many other disciplines.
Much has been written on the need for such interdisciplinary
research and training (Fisher et al., 2009), and its challenges
WILLIAMS ET AL.5of7
Test effectiveness
Implement
Design
Propose
No response
Research on responses
Understand threatening mechanism
Describe state of conservation target
Establish source of mechanism
Research on threats
Establish underlying driver of issue
7002710221022002799170027102210220027991
75
0
100
25
50
Percentage of Studies
FIGURE 3Research topics in the wider conservation literature.
The percentage of 959 conservation papers sampled from 20
conservation journals that examined different levels of threat and
conservation responses, over a 20-year period
(e.g., Pooley, Mendelsohn, & Milner-Gulland, 2014), but our
data suggest that conservation science still has considerable
progress to make.
Another, non-exclusive, possibility is that the research with
the greatest potential benefits for biodiversity may not be
well rewarded in academia. There is evidence that the inter-
disciplinary work this research demands is less likely to be
funded (Bromham, Dinnage, & Hua, 2016) and in compet-
itive, single-discipline departments, it may be perceived as
less likely to secure promotion and accolades compared to
purely ecological studies (Roy et al., 2013). Moreover, inter-
disciplinary teams are often formed at the behest of govern-
ment agencies that are focused on solving particular prob-
lems, but not necessarily on the peer-reviewed publication of
such interventions. The design and implementation of on-the-
ground conservation responses are also likely to be locally
focused, and hence hard to generalize from, as solutions are
dependent on specific socioeconomic and environmental con-
ditions (Waylen, Fischer, McGowan, Thirgood, & Milner-
Gulland, 2010). This may reduce the number of citations such
research receives, reducing its “impact” in the scientific liter-
ature. However, when we tested this idea using our sample of
the wider conservation science literature, we found no clear
support for the hypothesis that articles investigating higher
level threats, or proposing and implementing responses had
lower “impact” than other studies—measured either by the
impact factor of publishing journals, or the number of cita-
tions received (see the Supporting Information, Figures S2–
S4 for details).
These results tentatively suggest fears over the publication
payoffs of tackling the drivers of threats or developing
effective solutions are misplaced. Nonetheless, the small
number of studies that investigated these topics means our
findings are preliminary, and there remains the possibility
that the most effective conservation studies are inadequately
rewarded. We also have no information on papers that are
rejected from journals, and it is possible that editorial boards
and reviewers are less likely to accept interdisciplinary
papers, or those designing and implementing interventions
at local scales. However, some journals are actively encour-
aging studies of this kind (e.g., Conservation Biology, Teel
et al., 2018), and indeed entire journals are now dedicated to
testing the effectiveness of conservation interventions (e.g.,
Conservation Evidence,Conservation Science and Practice;
Hopkins, Ockendon, & Sutherland, 2015; Schwartz et al.,
2019; Sutherland, Mitchell, & Prior, 2012). We also note that
our sampling may have failed to capture studies that examine
higher level threats and solutions if they are predominantly
published in interdisciplinary journals we did not sample
(e.g., in environmental economics or industrial ecology).
However, we found no evidence of this from reviewing
literature on the three conservation case studies we reviewed:
studies investigating the sources of threatening mechanisms,
and those designing, implementing, and testing responses,
were no less likely to be included in the journals we sampled
in our wider review than were other studies (chi-squared test
of threat category vs. inclusion or not in wider sample: 𝜒2(2,
N=57) =0.037, p=0.98; response category vs. inclusion:
𝜒2(3, N=57) =0.20, p=0.98).
3ACHIEVING THE AIMS OF
CONSERVATION SCIENCE
Not every study can, or should, investigate every step in the
framework we describe. Monitoring the state of nature is,
on its own, an essential activity for revealing changes (Lin-
denmayer & Gibbons 2012; Woinarski, Garnett, Legge, &
Lindenmayer, 2017), and system-specific studies can reveal
very different mechanisms or sources for superficially sim-
ilar changes. For example, the catastrophic declines in East
African vulture populations are, as in South Asia, caused
by contaminated carcasses, but linked to retaliatory killing
of predators and to ivory poaching (Ogada, Botha, & Shaw,
2016), rather than to veterinary care of livestock. More-
over, conservation intervention may be needed before the full
causal chain of threats is understood: swift action established
a captive breeding program for California condors (Gymno-
gyps californianus) in the 1980s and likely saved the species
6of7 WILLIAMS ET AL.
(Walters et al., 2010), while the failure to quickly initiate cap-
tive breeding may well have contributed to recent Australian
extinctions of a bat, a rodent, and a reptile (Woinarski et al.,
2017).
That said, we nevertheless encourage conservation scien-
tists to critically examine their research priorities. Studies
have noted that much conservation science is not focused on
the most threatened species (Murray, Green, Williams, Bur-
field, & de L. Brooke, 2015) or serious threats (Di Marco
et al., 2017), but we highlight the additional need to think care-
fully about engaging in research at the right point of the threat
and response framework, at the right time. A recent study
(Garnett et al., 2019) provides metrics to help researchers
understand the state of knowledge of threats and responses.
Combining these metrics with our framework could allow
conservation researchers to quickly pinpoint where additional
research effort could make the most difference.
Ultimately, biodiversity declines are the result of increas-
ing anthropogenic pressures on the environment (Ripple et al.,
2017; Tilman et al., 2017; Tittensor et al., 2014), frequently
coupled with a lack of decisive governmental action, even
when the path forward is clear (Woinarski et al., 2017). The
urgency and severity of such pressures accentuate the need
for conservation researchers to be as effective and efficient as
possible: for many species, there simply is not the luxury of
time to edge incrementally towards solutions. Conservation
science’s response to the South Asian vulture crisis in partic-
ular illustrates how a rapid progression of research from iden-
tifying changes, to understanding their causes, to designing,
implementing, and testing solutions can result in real benefits
to biodiversity. We suggest such targeted progressions seem
lacking across much of the conservation science enterprise.
We therefore close by offering a challenge to conser-
vation funders and journals: be more supportive of the
interdisciplinary and location- and system-specific research
required to produce breakthroughs in our understanding of
higher level threats, and in our ability to design and exe-
cute effective responses. This could involve institutionally
supported sabbaticals and leaves-of-absence at institutions
actively involved in conservation responses (e.g., NGOs and
government departments), to bridge the gap between research
and practice, with researchers supporting practitioners to pub-
lish details of interventions, as well as monitoring and evalu-
ating progress. Such efforts and their outputs should also be
recognized in applications for tenure, promotion, and fund-
ing, in a similar way to programs in some U.S. universities
that allow tenured faculty to take leaves-of-absence to serve
in government posts for 2–4 years without loss of seniority.
To conservation researchers, we offer another challenge:
focus on the ultimate goals of conservation science—
improving the prospects of wild creatures, the benefits they
bestow on people, and the natural habitats they depend on.
Conservation science has done much to preserve the natu-
ral world in the face of unprecedented pressures and frequent
governmental indifference (e.g., Hoffmann et al., 2010), but
we believe it can and must do much more if we are to safe-
guard biodiversity for future generations.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
We thank three anonymous reviewers for helping to improve
this manuscript. DRW, AB, and DSW conceived and designed
the study; DRW collected data and performed analyses; DRW,
AB, and DSW wrote the paper. Authors declare no competing
interests. All data are available in the main text or the supple-
mentary materials.
ORCID
David R Williams https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0379-1800
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SUPPORTING INFORMATION
Additional supporting information may be found online in the
Supporting Information section at the end of the article.
How to cite this article: Williams DR, Balmford A,
Wilcove DS. The past and future role of conservation
science in saving biodiversity. Conservation Letters.
2020;e12720. https://doi.org/10.1111/conl.12720
... Although the processes underlying global change become progressively clearer, their consequences remain complex. Feedbacks between ecological and social systems are difficult to predict, and this challenges effective mitigation of biodiversity loss and major drivers of this loss (Williams et al., 2020). Since the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 1992, official calls by global entities for urgent action to conserve biodiversity are increasing Brondizio et al., 2019;IPCC, 2014) along with works that highlight the need of interdisciplinarity and more integrated approaches (Leclere et al., 2020;Williams et al., 2020). ...
... Feedbacks between ecological and social systems are difficult to predict, and this challenges effective mitigation of biodiversity loss and major drivers of this loss (Williams et al., 2020). Since the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 1992, official calls by global entities for urgent action to conserve biodiversity are increasing Brondizio et al., 2019;IPCC, 2014) along with works that highlight the need of interdisciplinarity and more integrated approaches (Leclere et al., 2020;Williams et al., 2020). ...
... Reports on the global status of biodiversity under global change call for more effective conservation actions (e.g., Almond et al., 2020). These actions should be grounded on the scientific evidence available regarding the major threats and their impacts on nature along with monitoring the effectiveness of management (Williams et al., 2020). Considerable progress must be made in conservation to integrate disciplines besides ecology or biology, especially economics, political sciences, and law while coordinating actions across countries (Fisher et al., 2009). ...
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Calls for urgent action to conserve biodiversity under global change are increasing, and conservation of migratory species in this context poses special challenges. In the last two decades the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) has provided a framework for several subsidiary instruments including action plans for migratory bird species, but the effectiveness and transferability of these plans remain unclear. Such laws and policies have been credited with positive outcomes for the conservation of migratory species, but the lack of international coordination and on-ground implementation pose major challenges. While research on migratory populations has received growing attention, considerably less emphasis has been given to integrating ecological information throughout the annual cycle for examining strategies to conserve migratory species at multiple scales in the face of global change. We fill this gap through a case study examining the ecological status and conservation of a migratory raptor and facultative scavenger, the red kite (Milvus milvus), whose current breeding range is limited to Europe and is associated with agricultural landscapes and restricted to the temperate zone. Based on our review, conservation actions have been successful at recovering red kite populations within certain regions. Populations however remain depleted along the southern-most edge of the geographic range where many migratory red kites from northern strongholds overwinter. This led us to a forward-looking and integrated strategy that emphasizes international coordination involving researchers and conservation practitioners to enhance the science-policy-action interface. We identify and explore key issues for conserving the red kite under global change, including enhancing conservation actions within and outside protected areas, recovering depleted populations, accounting for climate change, and transboundary coordination in adaptive conservation and management actions. The integrated conservation strategy is sufficiently general such that it can be adapted to inform conservation of other highly mobile species subject to global change.
... For example, a global analysis by Geldmann et al. (2013) found that the majority of practices suggested for the conservation of threatened species were based on site-level management, while a review from Melland et al. (2018) highlighted how adapting measures established from site specific research has enabled a practical application of findings. Examining the effectiveness of individual interventions in producing specific outcomes can help establish expectations from subsequent management (Schilling and Spooner, 2006) and advance the capacity for planning and implementing sound responses (Williams et al., 2020). Inaugurated in 1989, the Blanice River nature reserve was designated to protect the upper river network of the Blanice River against anthropogenic eutrophication and restore habitat conditions for sensitive freshwater species (Hruška, 1991a;Simon et al., 2015). ...
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As freshwater environments become increasingly threatened, the need for efficient and effective protection grows more urgent. Yet quantitative evidence of management effectiveness within freshwater protected areas is limited, inhibiting our ability to infer the practicality and efficacy of practices. Herein, we employ linear mixed-effects models and time series models to evaluate the connection between catchment-scale management actions and surface water quality within a freshwater protected area, over the past three decades. Within the study area, all croplands were restored to traditional grasslands resulting in a landscape dominated by meadows and forests. The extent of land use change and time frame needed for water quality improvements were investigated and management effectiveness appraised. Results indicate that the complete grassing of croplands was approximately three times more effective at reducing concentrations of nitrate than electrical conductivity and calcium. Significant improvements in water quality occurred within nine years of management implementation, with mean annual nitrate concentrations decreasing from 5.5 to 1.9 mg/L following the grassing of all croplands covering 3.1% of the study area, whereas gradual improvements continued over the next 20 years, ultimately resulting in nitrate concentrations below 1.0 mg/L. The results of this study provide valuable insights on how land use conversions in small headwater catchments can influence stream water quality and helps to establish expectations for outcomes when planning conservation strategies.
... As the twenty-first century unfolds, the human-driven decline of life on Earth is, day by 36 day, of greater concern and, despite tremendous growth in the volume of conservation science 37 and many local successes, shows no clear signs of improvement (Williams et al. 2020). ...
Preprint
As the twenty-first century unfolds, the human-driven decline of life on Earth is of greater concern and, despite tremendous growth in the volume of conservation science and many local successes, shows no clear signs of improvement. As a matter of fact, the reversal of nature’s ongoing decline is only possible with urgent “transformative change”However, no transformative changes are viable without first accepting that, as many other species, we may be bound for extinction and that no time or solutions may be left to reverse nature’s decline. In light of this, I aim at provokingly inspiring the “courage of hopelessness”, while paradoxically providing the leverage to think differently.To this end I will remind that: 1) the main reports and projections about nature’s decline paint a gloomy picture for the future of contemporary societies; 2) the destructive fingerprint of modern human societies (i.e., capitalist enterprise), although being just one of the many expressions in the evolution of human cultures, is now dominant and necessarily finds its root in the human biology, thus in the way our species is cognitively coupled with the environment (i.e. conscious purpose and dualistic thinking); 3) such destructive fingerprint is particularly difficult to modify since we are naturally reluctant to change habits and beliefs even when we know they lead into error. Considering this, I suggest moving forward from the widely accepted but timed-out metaphor of conservation as a “crisis discipline”, which intrinsically suggests a temporary state and an optimistic perspective, in favour of a more “palliative” attitude towards our times.
... Moreover, the recent licensing of diclofenac for veterinary use in several southern European countries could lead to thousands of vulture deaths a year 42 , potentially undermining a regional bright spot in our analysis-the Iberian Peninsula. More encouragingly, conservation research on South Asian vultures has progressed from identifying primary threats to designing, implementing, and testing effective interventions (including safe alternatives to diclofenac); ongoing monitoring suggests shallower declines and even the incipient recovery of some vulture populations 43 . These contrasting case studies demonstrate the importance of enforceable regulation at the national level, and of providing alternatives to prohibited activities. ...
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In the face of an accelerating extinction crisis, scientists must draw insights from successful conservation interventions to uncover promising strategies for reversing broader declines. Here, we synthesize cases of recovery from a list of 362 species of large carnivores, ecologically important species that function as terminal consumers in many ecological contexts. Large carnivores represent critical conservation targets that have experienced historical declines as a result of direct exploitation and habitat loss. We examine taxonomic and geographic variation in current extinction risk and recovery indices, identify conservation actions associated with positive outcomes, and reveal anthropogenic threats linked to ongoing declines. We find that fewer than 10% of global large carnivore populations are increasing, and only 12 species (3.3%) have experienced genuine improvement in extinction risk, mostly limited to recoveries among marine mammals. Recovery is associated with species legislation enacted at national and international levels, and with management of direct exploitation. Conversely, ongoing declines are robustly linked to threats that include habitat modification and human conflict. Applying lessons from cases of large carnivore recovery will be crucial for restoring intact ecosystems and maintaining the services they provide to humans.
... Conservation responsibility makes abstract goals such as ''biodiversity protection'' tangible; for instance, ''a concession is responsible for 34% of the range of the Rhinoceros Hornbill (Buceros rhinoceros) in a country. '' In the conservation literature, there is a void between global studies revealing important trends that are rarely actionable at national scales and local studies with deep understanding at a site level that may not be generalizable at the global scale (Jarvis et al., 2020;Williams et al., 2020). Our goal is to quantify the global conservation responsibility for tropical forest bird species threatened by degradation in a way that is actionable at the international institution, national government, and individual company levels. ...
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Unprotected lands can help prevent the extinctions of species if managed carefully. Over half of the tropical forest is leased by logging companies, whereas only 6%–18% is protected. This makes the timber industry, institutions that regulate it, and consumers of its products important actors in conservation. We assessed the conservation responsibility, the proportion of a species’ range that tropical timber industry concessions overlap with, for bird species that decline after selective logging. Up to 32% of the global range and up to 100% of the national range of sensitive species within our study countries are leased by logging companies. Individual concessions overlap with the ranges of up to 25 sensitive and more than 500 total bird species, with a particularly high density in Borneo. Our results can inform governments, forest managers, sustainability certifiers, and consumers so that they can turn this responsibility into a conservation opportunity through interventions at multiple scales.
... There is an expectation that conservation interventions undertaken by practitioners are based on sound evidence, complemented by ongoing testing of commonly used or novel interventions. Universities and research institutes have played a major role in providing underlying research, but little addresses practical solutions (Arlettaz et al., 2010;Williams et al., 2020). This disconnect between research and practice reflects the finding that most papers in conservation journals do not make management recommendations (Simonetti, 2011) and do not reach the audiences most in need (Shanley and López, 2009). ...
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The Publisher regrets that this article is an accidental duplication of an article that has already been published, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.endend.2014.06.001. The duplicate article has therefore been withdrawn. The full Elsevier Policy on Article Withdrawal can be found at https://www.elsevier.com/about/ourbusiness/policies/article-withdrawal.
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Tens of thousands of species are threatened with extinction as a result of human activities. Here we explore how the extinction risks of terrestrial mammals and birds might change in the next 50 years. Future population growth and economic development are forecasted to impose unprecedented levels of extinction risk on many more species worldwide, especially the large mammals of tropical Africa, Asia and South America. Yet these threats are not inevitable. Proactive international efforts to increase crop yields, minimize land clearing and habitat fragmentation, and protect natural lands could increase food security in developing nations and preserve much of Earth's remaining biodiversity. © 2017 Macmillan Publishers Limited, part of Springer Nature. All rights reserved.