Can conservation science make a significant contribution to human well-being and nature conservation?
Conservation biologists and practitioners increasingly recognize the need to take a multi-disciplinary approach involving ecological, political, economic, and social science to address today’s most pressing conservation problems. Consistent with this recognition, there have been a number of recent papers addressing the need to understand and focus on socio-ecological systems (coupled human-natural systems) in planning and implementing conservation programs. Conservation science is the application of a multi-disciplinary science approach to address conservation problems that have both ecological and human well-being (HWB) components. There has been considerable debate over the degree to which conservation initiatives should consider both ecological and HWB goals, how this can best be accomplished (e.g., the integration of biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services), and what the tradeoffs are in so doing. Here we focus on the methods, tools, and analyses that conservation scientists can use to contribute to both biodiversity conservation and human well-being. We demonstrate how these tools are being applied through multi-disciplinary working groups in a new science synthesis initiative – Science for Nature and People – and through ongoing conservation initiatives.
Conservation scientists use a number of well-developed methods, tools, and frameworks to design and implement conservation projects that pursue both ecological and HWB goals. Among the most important of these are: 1) developing conceptual models of socio-ecological systems, 2) establishing measurable project objectives for both nature conservation and HWB, 3) applying multi-objective analytical approaches, 4) strategy mapping, 5) analyzing return-on-investment of different strategies to understand tradeoffs, 6) examining scenario analyses in situations with high uncertainty, and 7) documenting the evidence for the degree to which various strategies and actions are likely to succeed. We demonstrate the use of these approaches in multi-disciplinary working groups addressing water security in Latin American cities, data limitations in assessing marine fisheries stocks, the use of natural coastal ecosystems in reducing risks to human and natural communities, and REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) projects. Although it is clear that the tools and methods of conservation science can contribute to both nature conservation and HWB, the evidence for those contributions remains limited at best, and much work remains in designing conservation projects that demonstrate the evidence for a range of interventions.