Practitioner’s Perspectives

Introducing a different voice in applied ecology

Journal of Applied Ecology launched a major new initiative in 2011 to bridge the gap between applied ecological research and practical environmental management. The Practitioner’s Perspective series provides a platform for individuals involved in hands-on management of ecological resources, to explain what is needed to ensure effective take-up of the results of research.

Read the information for authors, our Editorial on Practitioner's Perspectives, and these articles:

Building partnerships with communities for biodiversity conservation: lessons from Asian mountains
by Chardutt Mishra, Juliette Claire Young, Matthias Fiechter, Brad Rutherford and Stephen Mark Redpath

With interactions between people and natural systems being at the heart of applied ecology, working with local communities in conservation efforts is critical. This Practitioner’s Perspective aims to provide researchers and practitioners with the skills they need to effectively engage with communities, employ local knowledge and achieve conservation aims.

Holistic management of live animals confiscated from illegal wildlife trade
by Thomas N. E. Gray, Nick Marx, Vuthyravong Khem, Dean Lague, Vincent Nijman and Suwanna Gauntlett

This artice addresses an often over-looked aspect of the war against wildlife crime – how to deal with live animals confiscated from illegal trade as a result of enforcement activity. Since its establishment in 2001 Cambodia’s Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team, has been at the forefront of tackling wildlife crime in the country. This effective action results in the confiscation of thousands of live animals annually, including some of the most threatened species in Asia such as pileated gibbon and Sunda pangolin.

Using reef fish movement to inform marine reserve design
by Rebecca Weeks, Alison L. Green, Eugene Joseph, Nate Peterson and Elizabeth Terk

Information on movement patterns of coral reef fishes has only recently been summarized in the literature, along with guidelines on how this information might be used to inform the adequate design of marine protected areas (MPAs; Green et al. 2015). Here, we demonstrate, using an example from Micronesia, how these guidelines can be adapted and applied within a particular socio-ecological context to guide discussions with stakeholders aimed at improving the efficacy of an existing protected area network. We discuss aspects of this process that were successful and those that were challenging, and in so doing, identify areas where future ecological research effort might benefit protected area planning and design.

Lack of sound science in assessing wind farm impacts on seabirds
by Rhys Green, Rowena Langston, Aly McCluskie, Rosie Sutherland and Jeremy Wilson

In this perspective, we argue that the methods and data used in some cases for estimating effects upon seabird demographic rates and translating them into potential impacts on seabird populations do not allow adequate assessment of effects on site integrity. As a result, sound science and its logical interpretation are lacking in Environmental Impact Assessments of this large and expanding industry.

Conservation practitioners' perspectives on decision triggers for evidence-based management
by Prue Addison, Carly Cook and Kelly de Bie

Protected area management organizations are on the front line of protecting biodiversity, and effective management is recognized as critical in halting the loss of biodiversity. Evidence-based management can help guide effective management of natural systems by integrating the best available evidence to support management decisions and evaluate management effectiveness. Over recent decades, evidence-based management has started to emerge as an approach, in response to the need for increased transparency and to promote positive conservation outcomes (Ferraro & Pattanayak 2006).

Strategies to enhance the resilience of the world's seagrass meadows
by Leanne Cullen-Unsworth and Richard Unsworth

Urgent action is required to stem the loss of the world's seagrass meadows, prioritize their protection and recognize the array of ecosystem services (ES) that they provide. The reasons for continued decline are complex, driven by an array of cross-sectoral forces with solutions consequentially difficult to conceptualize. Seagrass meadows provide multiple ecosystem services to humanity, yet they remain in decline and largely marginalized on conservation agendas (Orth et al. 2006; Duarte et al. 2010; Cullen-Unsworth et al. 2014). Here, we provide a succinct overview of evidenced successful strategies used to improve the resilience of seagrass meadows and propose ‘bite-sized’ actions to assist a variety of stakeholders in taking practical steps to help reverse the decline of our seagrass meadows.

Ecosystem monitoring for ecosystem-based management: using a polycentric approach to balance information trade-offs
by Adel Heenan, Kelvin Gorospe, Ivor Williams, Arielle Levine, Paulo Maurin, Marc Nadon, Thomas Oliver, John Rooney, Molly Timmers, Supin Wongbusarakum and Russell Brainard

Here, we present our experience of long-term ecosystem monitoring, from establishing and implementing the interdisciplinary Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program (Pacific RAMP), the Pacific component of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Coral Reef Monitoring Plan (NCRMP). We focus on the trade-offs made to maintain data integrity within a single discipline, while retaining relevance and integrating across multiple disciplines in a changing policy environment. We propose cross-scale monitoring systems as a means to effectively address trade-offs that likely will arise in ecosystem monitoring. To achieve this, we promote a polycentric approach to monitoring and outline three recommendations that could enable current monitoring practitioners to work towards attaining the information requirements for implementing ecosystem-based management.

Optimizing regulatory requirements to aid in the implementation of compensatory mitigation
by Kei Sochi & Joseph Kiesecker

Governments, companies and conservation organizations seek to minimize the impacts of development through application of the mitigation hierarchy: avoid, minimize, restore and offset (McKenney & Kiesecker 2010). Around the world, policies and performance standards for compensatory mitigation are being strengthened not just to reduce impacts to biodiversity, but to achieve goals for biodiversity that range from “no net loss” to “net gains” (IFC 2012). Although use of offsets is still in its infancy, offsets are gaining traction globally as a goal of public policy (Madsen et al. 2011; Villarroya, Barros & Kiesecker 2014), corporate practices (Rainey et al. 2014), and lending standards (IFC 2012; Equator Principles 2013). As such, these new policies and standards will be important drivers for companies to improve mitigation practices.

Real-time anti-poaching tags could help prevent imminent species extinctions
by Paul O'Donoghue & Christian Rutz

At an estimated $7–10 billion annually, the global trade in illegal wildlife parts is comparable in economic value to human trafficking, and the smuggling of weapons and drugs (Wasser et al. 2008; Wyler & Sheikh 2013). Basic economic principles of supply and demand ensure that, as target species become ever rarer, their market value continues to rise, gradually pushing them towards extinction (Courchamp et al. 2006; Nowell 2012a). One particular problem is that anti-poaching rangers often arrive too late at crime scenes to arrest criminals, making poaching a low-risk and high-gains enterprise (Wyler & Sheikh 2013). Here, we identify an opportunity to address this fundamental problem – we propose that cutting-edge tracking technology could be harnessed to implement effective ‘real-time poaching-alert systems’. Animals would be fitted with miniature electronic devices (‘biologgers’) that can detect a poaching event, establish its exact location and relay data remotely to ground teams. Such systems should considerably increase the chances of successful interception, and thereby, escalate the actual and perceived risks of poaching, establishing a powerful new deterrent. In combination with other mitigation strategies (reviewed below), this innovative approach could lead to a much-needed breakthrough in the increasingly desperate fight against wildlife crime.

Science, statistics and surveys: a herpetological perspective
by Richard A. Griffiths, Jim Foster, John W. Wilkinson & David Sewell

Bridging the gap between conservation science and conservation practice is a widely acknowledged issue in applied ecology (Hulme 2011). Nowhere is the gap greater than in the area of data collection, analysis and interpretation. Population assessments for conservation are frequently based on traditional practices that use rules of thumb and quasi-quantitative methods. This means that important decisions that have far-reaching conservation, and commercial and financial implications are often based on sketchy population assessments. This is particularly problematic for small-bodied, cryptic animals that have highly seasonal patterns of behaviour tied to prevailing weather conditions.

Using ecological theory to develop recovery criteria for an endangered butterfly
by Cheryl B. Schultz and Elizabeth E. Crone

A fundamental goal in conservation biology is the recovery of at-risk species. It is easy to assume that when a species is listed as threatened or endangered under the IUCN Red List or US Endangered Species Act processes, that conservation planning and species protection will follow, but this does not necessarily happen (Farrier, Whelan & Mooney 2007). In the United States, if a species is added to the Endangered Species list, the obligation of the responsible agency [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) or National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)] is to direct implementation of a recovery plan which includes quantitative and measurable criteria by which to evaluate whether recovery ensues to the point at which the species can change status or be removed from the list. In contrast, the IUCN Red List serves to inform national agencies about the status of species within their boundaries. Farrier, Whelan & Mooney (2007) observe that the assumption that there is an automatic nexus between IUCN listing and conservation action is ‘illusory’.

Using plant functional traits to restore Hawaiian rainforest
by Rebecca Ostertag, Laura Warman, Susan Cordell and Peter M. Vitousek

Ecosystem restoration efforts are carried out by a variety of individuals and organizations with an equally varied set of goals, priorities, resources and time-scales. Once restoration of a degraded landscape or community is recognized as necessary, choosing which species to include in a restoration programme can be a difficult and value-laden process (Fry, Power & Manning 2013; Jones 2013). Species choice in restoration is often carried out with limited ecological information, particularly in regard to species interactions, successional processes and resource-use patterns. Selecting species can be particularly problematic in systems where there is no available baseline data on historical communities, or when restoration to a historic state is not feasible for ecological, logistic or economic reasons. In such cases, it may be preferable to focus on restoring site ‘functionality’ rather than returning to a historic baseline composition. We present a method for species selection in restoration, based on the collection of plant functional trait data. Using this method, managers can develop species mixtures with desired properties, including expected predictions of interspecific interactions and potential changes in biotic and abiotic conditions. 

Co-creation of individual-based models by practitioners and modellers to inform environmental decision-making
by Kevin A. Wood, Richard A. Stillman and John D. Goss-Custard

Effective environmental decision-making, in the form of evidence-based management and policy, is a key prerequisite to help balance nature conservation, natural resource management and human socio-economic activities (Sutherland et al. 2004). To aid such decision-making, the need for predictive tools that are accurate, robust and parsimonious has arguably never been greater. The Earth is currently in a time of environmental change unprecedented in human history, due to climate change, growing human population size and resource use, land-use changes and intensification, habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution and invasive species. Thus, the ability to predict how biological systems will change over time is as fundamental to research ecologists as it is to practitioners engaged in environmental decision-making (Evans 2012). As the competition between people and other organisms for space and resources intensifies with continued human population growth, public support for environmental management and policy can only be retained if environmental decision-making is scientifically sound. 

On formally integrating science and policy: walking the walk
by James D. Nichols, Fred A. Johnson, Byron K. Williams and G. Scott Boomer

The contribution of science to the development and implementation of policy is typically neither direct nor transparent. In 1995, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) made a decision that was unprecedented in natural resource management, turning to an unused and unproven decision process to carry out trust responsibilities mandated by an international treaty. The decision process was adopted for the establishment of annual sport hunting regulations for the most economically important duck population in North America, the 6 to 11 million mallards Anas platyrhynchos breeding in the mid-continent region of north-central United States and central Canada. The key idea underlying the adopted decision process was to formally embed within it a scientific process designed to reduce uncertainty (learn) and thus make better decisions in the future.  

Scientists’ responsibilities towards evidence-based conservation in a Small Island Developing State
by Christopher N. Kaiser-Bunbury, Frauke Fleischer-Dogley, Didier Dogley and Nancy Bunbury

Much has been written about bridging the implementation gap, also known as the ‘great divide’ or the ‘knowledge–action boundary’ (e.g. Gibbons et al. 2008; Arlettaz et al. 2010; Cook et al. 2013). Most of these authors make valid and needed points concerning the application of science to conservation management, including the proposal of conceptual frameworks or changes to the structure of the research system. Recommended measures range from collaborative exercises for identifying important research questions, which, when addressed, will provide the evidence base for effective conservation policies (Rudd 2011; Braunisch et al. 2012), to creating an institutional platform to engage individuals from across the knowledge–action boundary (Cook et al. 2013). While such recommendations for higher-level structural changes are desirable, they are rarely in sync with the constraints of conservation scientists (e.g. Soulé 1985; Balmford et al. 2003), which call for rapidly achievable outcomes with limited resources. As a consequence, the recommendations of many well-intentioned researchers end with publication (Fazey, Fischer & Lindenmayer 2005), despite the fact that publication alone is usually ineffective in triggering management changes (Pullin & Knight 2005).

Two Practitioner's Perspectives were published as part of the Special Profile: Putting applied ecology into practice
Bridging the gap between applied ecological science and practical implementation in peatland restoration
by Penny Anderson

How can ecologists make conservation policy more evidence based? Ideas and examples from a devolved perspective
by Ian Bainbridge

Letting giants be – rethinking active fire management of old-growth eucalypt forest in the Australian tropics 
by David Y. P. Tng, Steve Goosem, Greg J. Jordan and David M. J. S. Bowman

Tall old-growth forests are of global social-economic, political and ecological significance. These forests contribute significantly to the global carbon budget and are of high conservation value given sustained logging and clearing over the past two centuries. In Australia, these old-growth forests extend from tropical to temperate regions of Australia in areas where rainfall exceeds 1000 mm per year, being characterized by emergent eucalypt trees attaining statures of 30 m to more than 80 m, with canopy and understorey layers consisting of mesophytic broad-leaved trees and treelets, sclerophyllous shrubs and graminoids. These forests support some of the tallest flowering plants in the world, are important habitats for a unique suite of flora and fauna, and are important forest cover for metropolitan water catchments – values that make giant eucalypt forests a focal point of scientific study and ecotourism.

Research into action: grey partridge conservation as a case study
by Nicolas W. Sotherton, Nicholas J. Aebischer & Julie A. Ewald

Historically, grey partridge numbers fluctuated according to the economic viability of British agriculture, doing badly during periods of agricultural slump (pre-repeal of the Corn Laws in 1832, the 1930s depression) and doing well during the years of arable expansion (Napoleonic Wars). The current sustained decline in grey partridge numbers began in the 1950s as evidenced from national bag data and March pair counts. This was the time when the UK's agricultural industry began the process of intensification, both increasing production per unit area and polarizing production so that mixed arable/livestock farms were replaced in the west by all-grass farms and in the east by all-arable farms. Agricultural policy still has an important influence on grey partridge distribution and abundance as elements of wildlife conservation are introduced to National and European policies in the form of agri-environment schemes and as the take-up of such schemes is affected by the international price of commodity crops such as cereals.

Protected areas for conservation and poverty alleviation: experiences from Madagascar
by Charlie J. Gardner, Martin E. Nicoll, Tsibara Mbohoahy, Kirsten L. L. Oleson, Anitry N. Ratsifandrihamanana, Joelisoa Ratsirarson, Lily-Arison René de Roland, Malika Virah-Sawmy, Bienvenue Zafindrasilivonona, Zoe G. Davies

Biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation are two of the world's major challenges, and the search for synergies in the pursuit of both agendas is enshrined in their respective global policy frameworks – the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Millennium Development Goals. The ‘conservation–poverty debate’ has featured prominently in conservation discourses since the 1980s (Roe 2008), focusing primarily on issues such as the impact of conservation activities (particularly protected areas) on affected local communities, the role of conservation organizations in poverty alleviation and the complex interrelationships between biodiversity, ecosystem service provision and poverty. Much of the debate, however, has been theoretical in nature, and while it is widely acknowledged that conservationists should seek to reduce, or at least not aggravate, poverty through their actions, the literature remains sparse when it comes to illustrations of how poverty alleviation is pursued successfully in real-world conservation management.

Sustainable forest management in a time of ecosystem services frameworks: common ground and consequences
by Christopher P. Quine, Sallie A. Bailey, Kevin Watts
Part of the UK National Ecosystem Assessment Special Profile

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment has stimulated much interest in the linkages between the state of ecosystems and human well-being, and resulted in a number of international and national initiatives. For example, the UK National Ecosystem Assessment (UKNEA) is being widely discussed in research and land use policy communities, and has already influenced domestic policy (UK National Ecosystem Assessment 2011). The philosophy of ecosystem services is thought by many ecologists to be a good thing, leading to an expectation that their preferred landscapes or habitats will be conserved and that new resources will emerge to underpin and secure wider environmental benefits. Others are interested in particular markets that might develop the opportunities for new business enterprises and the new funding that might make land management more profitable.
Our practitioners' view stems from involvement in British forestry and in particular in the application of ecological research to the policy, planning and management of woodlands and forests.

A partnership approach to addressing applied ecological research needs of an oil and gas business
by Paola Maria Pedroni, Hernan Jaramillo, C. María de Lourdes Torres, Z. Hugo Navarrete, Julio Bernal-Ramirez, Timothy Reed

With ever-increasing demands for energy, oil and gas companies are continually searching for new resources. As a result, companies are looking in ever more remote terrestrial and challenging marine areas. These also tend to be areas with higher biodiversity and ecosystem service (BES) resources (IPIECA-OGP-API 2010; IPIECA-OGP 2011; Palliggiano et al. 2013). Accordingly, oil and gas companies recognise the importance of understanding potential impacts and managing their BES interactions. To do this requires applied research; this is a basic part of the business case.

New Zealand Species Recovery Groups and their role in evidence-based conservation
by John G. Ewen, Lynn Adams & Rory Renwick

New Zealand (NZ) is recognized globally as an important biodiversity hotspot. The Government is committed to protecting the nation's unique flora and fauna via its Department of Conservation (DOC). An important component of threatened species management has been the creation of species recovery groups and associated recovery plans. Recovery plans aim to summarize the current state of knowledge for a given species and identify a range of short- and long-term management goals which the group works towards.

Practical advice for implementing long-term ecosystem monitoring
by Christopher J. Sergeant, Brendan J. Moynahan, William F. Johnson

Understanding the current status and long-term trends of natural resources is widely recognized as a cornerstone of ecological research and management. As society wrestles with complex environmental issues involving multiple species and dynamic habitat conditions, the call for ecosystem-based management becomes increasingly urgent. However, to effectively implement ecosystem-based management, managers need access to baseline environmental measurements from appropriate temporal and spatial scales that are directly related to programme objectives.

Developing collaborative research to improve effectiveness in biodiversity conservation practice
by Arnaud Caudron, Laure Vigier, Alexis Champigneulle

Conservation planning, which includes characterizing local biodiversity, identifying spatial priorities, as well as both designing and applying conservation measures, is a process that is difficult to achieve in practice. Over the last decade, a growing literature has highlighted that management guidelines and conservation assessments published by scientists are rarely translated into action by resource managers either because they do not address key needs or they fail to come to the attention of end-users.

Resilience to climate change: translating principles into practice

by Michael D. Morecroft, Humphrey Q. P. Crick, Simon J. Duffield, Nicholas A. Macgregor

‘Resilience’ has been a subject of ecological theory and investigation over many years. It has also become a common objective of climate change adaptation across the whole range of human activities. Climate change adaptation within a conservation framework draws on both of these histories, and it is not surprising that increasing resilience is frequently an overarching objective in adaptation strategies and principles; many of which have been published by conservationists and ecologists in recent years.

How can ecologists help practitioners minimize non-target effects in weed biocontrol?

by Simon V. Fowler, Quentin Paynter, Sarah Dodd and Ronny Groenteman

Many ecologists profess a negative opinion of biocontrol, whilst practitioners argue that it offers a cost-effective solution for many invasive weed problems. Practitioners are under pressure to implement effective weed biocontrol more quickly, cheaply and safely. In our practitioner’s perspective, we focus on two key areas, host range testing and indirect non-target effects, where advances in ecological research could progress these stakeholder-driven aims and minimize potential negative outcomes of biocontrol that concern ecologists and practitioners.

Building the evidence base for ecological impact assessment and mitigation

by David Hill, Richard Arnold

Read the evaluation of this paper on F1000.

The ecology consultancy market has been booming in recent years and is predicted to out perform other environmental consultancy sectors during the current economic situation. In the UK alone, there are now around 2250 ecologists employed in the sector (based on Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management membership and their membership survey), and it has an estimated value of £110m to £120m. Figures for the size of the market elsewhere are harder to come by, but we estimate that the global ecology consultancy market could be between £1bn and £3bn.

Using conservation science to solve conservation problems

by David W. Gibbons, Jeremy D. Wilson and Rhys E. Green

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a UK charity taking action for the conservation of wild birds and the environment. It aims to reverse biodiversity loss and ensure sustainable management of the planet’s natural resources, whilst maintaining a focus on the conservation of biodiversity in general, and bird populations in particular. In pursuit of these aims, the RSPB engages in education and raising public awareness, develops and advocates policy, advises landowners and others on conservation management, and manages an estate of over 200 nature reserves in the United Kingdom, extending to over 140,000 ha. It devotes a gradually increasing proportion of its resources to global conservation, most often working through the BirdLife International Partnership. RSPB directs c. 8% of its conservation expenditure to the scientific underpinning of its work. It hopes that this ensures the effective, efficient, evidencebased use of its charitable resources for conservation.

Determining appropriate goals for restoration of imperilled communities and species

by Andrea S. Thorpe, Amanda G. Stanley

Conservation and restoration practitioners often struggle to define appropriate targets for restoration. Frequently, "pre-settlement conditions" (the conditions that are believed to have existed prior to European settlement) are used. We have found that two problems – how to accurately describe the historic condition, and its relevance in the face of global change – are at the heart of many difficult decisions in both large-scale restoration of whole plant communities and fine-scale recovery activities for rare species. We work collaboratively with land managers to conduct research to inform these issues, such as incorporating experiments exploring new treatment alternatives and differentiation between populations of rare plants into restoration activities. We suggest that rather than focusing on historic benchmarks, restoration goals should be based on ecological principles that will lead to resilient, functioning ecosystems.

Translating research into action: bumblebee conservation as a case study

by Dave Goulson, Pippa Rayner, Bob Dawson, Ben DarvillVolume 48, Issue 1 (February 2011)

Bumblebees belong to the genus Bombus, which comprises about 250 species, largely confined to the temperate Northern Hemisphere. They are wholly dependent on flowers for their energetic and developmental requirements. Most are social species, with nest sizes varying from 50 to 400 workers. As such, they have attracted considerable attention regarding their role as pollinators. There is a growing body of evidence that bumblebees have declined in Europe, North America and Asia in recent decades because of multiple causes probably including habitat loss, impacts of pesticides, competition from non-native species and the introduction of non-native diseases (Goulson, Lye & Darvill 2008a; Williams & Osborne 2009). Recent health problems affecting honeybees and a perception that other pollinators may be declining has led to serious concern that we might be facing a global ‘pollination crisis’ affecting pollination of crops and wildflowers (e.g. Aizen & Harder 2009).