By Sarah-Jane O'Connor 30/03/2016

Some of the countries that need conservation work the most are missing out, undermining global efforts to protect biodiversity, a new study suggests.

The research, published today in PLOS Biology, analysed over 10,000 scientific papers from more than 1000 journals published in 2014. The Australian researchers looked at where the research was done, by whom and how that related to the most important countries for biodiversity conservation.

The countries ranked most important for mammal conservation (Indonesia, Madagascar, Peru, Mexico, and Australia) accounted for 11.9% of publications, though the authors determined, based on relative importance for mammal conservation, the top five countries should have been represented in 37.2% of publications. By the same calculation, the United State should have been represented by 0.5% of the papers, but instead made up 17.8% and was the most studied country overall.

A broader view of conservation, reflecting vascular plants, endemic species and functional species, found the most important countries (Ecuador, Costa Rica, Panama, the Dominican Republic, and Papua New Guinea) accounted for 1.6% of papers’ subjects.


Global distribution of publications on biodiversity conservation. From Wilson et al. 2016, PLOS Biology.

Lead author Professor Kerrie Wilson, from the University of Queensland, said their analysis showed less conservation work was undertaken in the most biodiverse countries. The authors wrote that the imbalance would need to be addressed quickly if the global community had any hope of reaching Target 19 of the Convention on Biodiversity:

“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.”

“If you dig a little deeper, it gets worse,” Wilson said. “The science conducted in these countries is often not led by scientists based in those countries and these scientists are also underrepresented in important international forums.” She said that added up to a widespread bias in the field of conservation science.

“If research is biased away from the most important areas for biodiversity conservation 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 well-being.”

The researchers suggested a range of solutions, including reforming open access publishing policies, enhancing science communication strategies, changing author attribution practices, improving representation in international processes, and strengthening infrastructure and human capacity for research in countries where it is most needed.

“We won’t change the situation by simply ignoring it,” Wilson said. “Researchers need to examine their own agendas and focus on areas with the greatest need.”

Visit for more science-related news from New Zealand and around the world.

Featured image: Flickr CC, Alexis Gravel.

0 Responses to “Gaps in conservation work”

  • As with most “big picture” issues like this one, it is hard to see what exactly is the problem and how exactly it might be solved (or at least improved). I guess the “exactly” relates to details – details which are typically glossed over in “big picture” discussions like this, but details without which we are left scratching our heads as to what it all means and what, if anything, can be done about it. Several issues are being conflated in the PloS Biology article. Why, for example, is Open Access (OA) relevant here? The published results of scientific research relating to conservation issue don’t need to be OA in order to be read and acted on by governments and other major organisations who may be in a position to act on the findings of the research. In my opinion, OA is little more than a convenient way for public funded researchers to strategically ditch funding and move on to the next grant. Why, for another example, is it relevant that conservation research in the most biodiverse countries be led by scientists based (permanent resident?) in those countries? How does this affect the results of the research? Should we be, for example, sending more scientists to live in PNG (or wherever), or should we be trying to accelerate development and economic growth in PNG so that they can more efficiently generate their own resident scientists? Development and economic growth typically runs counter to conservation and environmental issues! What difference would it make anyway? So, in summary, I guess what I am saying is that it might well be expedient for some to publish article and blogs on this rather vague “big picture” stuff, but without clearly defined problems and recommendations, it all amounts to, well, not much!