Diversifying conservation

In this age of ever increasing technological capacity and the global reach of economies, political institutions, and yes, disease and other environmental harms, we scientists do not have all the answers to the question every citizen asks: What shall we do? We do, however, know a lot that can help.

In the comment published today in Nature by Heather Tallis and 239 other scientists (including myself), we scientists have come together to urge that our field of conservation science moves beyond the question and focus on finding solutions – many solutions, not one solution – to sustain both people and nature on our planet.

As a founding faculty Fellow of the Institute for the Study of Environment and Society at Brown University, I’m participating in an exciting effort to do exactly this. Institute faculty are creating new knowledge of how social-ecological systems work and translating that science in ways that speak to decision makers at every level, from the local to global. Brown students mentored by sociologist Timmons Roberts are crafting a strategy to help implement the Resilient Rhode Island Act that some of them helped draft last spring. Students mentored by ecologist Kate Smith are investigating human and wildlife diseases in Rhode Island and around the world, and their implications for conservation and human health.  Microbial ecologist Jeremy Rich is diving to the depths of the tropical Pacific later this week to study the microbes that the form the base of the food web in a marine ecosystem humans first visited less than 40 years ago: hydrothermal vents. And in my own research group, we are exploring how diversity in the ecosystems and social organizations related to marine fisheries can contribute to the resilience of coupled systems to climate variability and change.

I believe that the research that my colleagues and I are engaged in all fall under the rubric of conservation science – science to inform actions to sustain life on earth – and yet not all of us consider ourselves conservation scientists, and certainly we are not all motivated by the same values or scientific objectives. This diversity of scientific perspectives and worldviews is critical for conservation to succeed, as we note in the Nature piece.

We need to ensure that the dialogue and the doing of conservation science welcomes the full diversity of genders, ethnicities, worldviews, and cultures in whose name we are generating this science. My hope is that the Nature piece encourages all us to think harder about how to do this well, and to get down to work.

I look forward to sharing my own efforts in future posts and encourage you to do the same, at http://diverseconservation.org/ or via twitter at #diverseconservation.