Toward Pragmatic, Integrated Conservation


Key Topics in Conservation Biology 2. Macdonald, D. W., and K. J. Willis, editors. 2013. Wiley-Blackwell, West Sussex, U.K. 510 pp. $89.95 (paperback). ISBN 978–0–470–65875–8.

Conservation. 2nd edition. Hambler, C., and S. M. Canney. 2013. Cambridge University of Press, Cambridge, U.K. 416 pp. $45.00 (paperback). ISBN 978–0–521–18168–6.

Conservation of Wildlife Populations. 2nd edition. Mills, L. S. 2013. Wiley-Blackwell, West Sussex, U.K. 326 pp. $79.95 (paperback). ISBN 978–0–470–67149–8.

These 3 books are uniquely excellent, each in its own right. Individually, they reveal a view of nature, the problem of biodiversity loss, and a response to this problem. Collectively, they contribute to our understanding of this multifaceted conservation challenge. They also provide insight, indirectly at least, into the effectiveness of our academic and applied work and what to do about both the challenge and our responses. These 3 books give us the assignment, should we choose to accept it, to take stock of our field and its foundational assumptions, better grasp the challenge confronting us as professionals and society, and find pragmatic alternatives to address them effectively.

Although the goals are similar, the books are quite different in content and scope. In this review we describe the content of each book and then comment on them altogether given the aspirations of their editors and authors. Key Topics in Conservation Biology 2 is edited by Macdonald and Willis and authored by some 93 contributors from diverse fields and experiences. The book is divided into 5 parts, starting with a preface (4 pp.), which lays out the impetus for the book, some stock-taking statistics of global change since the publication of Key Topics in Conservation Biology 1, and the questions they seek to address. The preface begins with a quotation, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” by Charles Dickens and ends with another quotation, “With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed” by Abraham Lincoln, which serve as bookends that harken to the times we live in and the most fundamental pragmatics of problem solving. At its heart, the book seeks to create a more effective “framework” for understanding ourselves, our work, and its context and to provide a formula for addressing the biodiversity crisis. In part I, “The Framework” (9 chapters, 36 authors), the editors purport to have created a new and needed framework. They go on in other parts (II–V) of the book to present 4 “habitat case studies” (part II, 16 authors), 4 “taxonomic case studies” (part III, 15 authors), 7 chapters on “safeguarding the future” (part IV, 27 authors), and a synthesis chapter (part V, written by the editors).

The preface of Hambler and Canney's Conservation (2nd edition) lays out the purpose of the book: “to give an overview of conservation and to demonstrate the many interdependent specialisms it requires” (p. ix). The authors note that conservation occurs “against a cultural and policy background that is changing even faster” than the environmental sciences (p. ix). The book highlights advances since the first edition, is well referenced, minimizes technical terms but defines those that remain, and includes case studies. It speaks to ecosystem services, sustainability, resilience and mitigation, landscape matrices, restoration, and monitoring, among other things. Chapter 1 explores what conservation means to different people. In the end though, the authors conclude that conservation is “relevant to all” (p. 1). As the authors state, conservation “interlinks fields as diverse as biology, philosophy, economics, chemistry, welfare, governance and human rights” (p. 1) and thus lies at the core of all “societal concerns” (p. 1). The book has 9 sections with between 5 and 9 subheadings each. Chapters include “Threats to Biodiversity,” “Evaluation of Priorities for Species and Habitats,” “Monitoring and Environmental Impact Assessment,” “Management of Natural and Fragmented Habitats,” “Management of Species,” “Sustainable Use,” “Semi-Natural Cultural Landscapes and the Matrix,” “Restoration and Offsetting,” and “Environmental Policy.” The volume concludes with a 2-page case study of Mali elephant conservation as an example of the issues illustrated throughout the book.

The goal of Conservation of Wildlife Populations (2nd edition) by Scott Mills is “to track the successes and maturation of the field [and]…retain the core concepts and readability” of the 1st edition (p. xi). The book is a traditional scientific text and focuses on hypothesis testing relative to theory in conservation, especially population ecology. Mills notes that ecology can aid humanity, “evaluate effects and find meaningful solutions to profoundly important and complex wildlife conservation and management issues” (p. xi). The book is divided into 3 parts with 4–6 sections per part. The opening big-picture section looks at human population dynamics; the “number of humans on Earth” is ever on Mills’ mind. The sections that follow explore ecological theory, apply that theory to management questions, and focus on populations of concern (declining, small, or harvestable). The book closes with an epilogue (2 pp.) in which Mills comes full circle back to the human population (pp. 269–270). Mills concludes that ecology is needed to address conservation problems because it offers nonintuitive and surprising insights, but it is not sufficient to solve conservation problems fully. He leaves readers with 4 thoughts (p. 269–270): “be true to yourself and true to your profession…have confidence in yourself and your hunches…acknowledge complications and politics, but do not let them freeze or discourage you…[and] be aware of your surroundings, and enjoy them!”

We recommend all 3 books. All are readable, the style and illustrations are accessible, texts are well referenced, and the authors and editors are authoritative. They share, more or less explicitly, 3 themes. First, it is imperative to integrate. This theme is illustrated by the number of authors in Key Topics in Conservation Biology 2 and the calls for connections to other disciplines and contextualization of conservation in all 3 books. These volumes illustrate our field's struggle to synthesize theory and practice, knowledge and action, values and science, and conventional and functional understanding. What is lacking is an integrative framework to facilitate this synthesis, a practical interdisciplinarity. Instead, multidisciplinarity is invoked and conflated with interdisciplinarity. Nevertheless, all 3 books clearly argue that real integration is required to address the conservation challenge.

Second, use methods that actually allow integration (i.e., apply a framework that includes all disciplines, methods, and models) (Brunner 2006). Although the editors of Key Topics in Conservation Biology 2 claim to offer a new framework, it is really a multidisciplinary miasma of disciplines and perspectives. The other 2 books allude to but do not explicitly address frameworks. Interdisciplinary frameworks are needed because they “identify the elements and general relationships among … [essential] elements that one needs to consider [in problem solving and] analysis and they organize diagnostic and prescriptive inquiry. Frameworks provide a metatheoretical language” (Ostrom 2011:8). Fortunately, interdisciplinary frameworks already exist (Clark 2011), but are little used (Gibeau 2012). The challenge is to master them and become skilled in their use for biodiversity conservation (Edwards & Gibeau 2013).

Third, be pragmatic and hopeful. To be pragmatic, we must be clear about our goals and use an integrative framework to good effect, which we already know how to do (e.g., Rutherford et al. 2009). However, this requires a different kind of scholarship and applied work than is currently standard procedure and rewarded (Boyer 1997). The size and pace of the biodiversity crises can create high anxiety and low morale. Conservation professionals can respond to these problems with a grounded pragmatism, which brings together reflection and intelligent action with imagination and gratitude. Such hope is realistic, generative, and effective (Balmford 2012). This pragmatic hope is reflected in Mills’ final 4 thoughts and is similarly reflected throughout the other 2 books.

Conservation Biology Editor in Chief Mark Burgman spoke to these 3 themes when he wrote that in an ideal world “people with appropriate qualifications, experience, and technical skills could make judgments … and interpret data in a consistent manner. … Judgments are uncertain [emphasis added]. Scientists disagree, and we are not necessarily as detached, objective, and independent as we wish we were” (Burgman 2013:643). Perhaps conservation success in our rapidly changing world is more about making judgments that are reasonable, practical, and justified about conservation problems. Integrative, interdisciplinary frameworks and other pragmatic approaches can help. These books are trending in that direction.