Linking science and practice in ecological research and management: How can we do it better?


  • Allan H. Burbidge,

  • Martine Maron,

  • Michael F. Clarke,

  • Jack Baker,

  • Damon L. Oliver,

  • Greg Ford

Allan Burbidge is a Principal Research Scientist with the Western Australian Department of Environment and Conservation (PO Box 51, Wanneroo, WA 6946, Australia; Email:; Martine Maron is a Lecturer in Environmental Management with The University of Queensland, School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management (Brisbane, Qld 4072, Australia). Michael F. Clarke is Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Zoology, La Trobe University (Bundoora, Vic. 3086, Australia). Jack Baker is an Honorary Principal Fellow with the Institute for Conservation Biology and Environmental Management, University of Wollongong (Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia). Damon Oliver is a Threatened Species Co-ordinator with the Biodiversity Conservation Section, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (PO Box 733, Queanbeyan, NSW 2620, Australia). Greg Ford is Director and Principal Ecologist with Balance! Environmental (PO Box 1744 Toowoomba Qld 4350, Australia). This comment piece arose from collaborations during and after a symposium on the need for improved science-practice interactions at the Australasian Ornithological Conference (AOC) in Perth, December 2007.


Summary  In conservation management, ensuring that the most appropriate research is conducted and results are actually put into practice is a complex and challenging process. While there are success stories, many hurdles can reduce the likelihood of appropriate research being initiated and its findings communicated and implemented. This article describes the ideal research–management cycle, summarizes the major factors that impede it and draws on the experiences of the authors to provide a series of examples of successful approaches to help keep the cycle going. We consider that the major impediments to a functioning research–management cycle relate to a lack of collaboration, poor communication, inappropriate funding and political timelines, change inertia and a lack of capacity. Although addressing structural difficulties such as matching funding timelines to those required for ecological research is a fundamental challenge, we can make incremental improvements to the way in which we operate that will improve the chances that research is both useful and used. The principles underpinning our success stories are (i) strategic development of capacity, (ii) increased breadth and depth of collaborations between researchers and managers and (iii) improved communications. Participants in the research–management cycle must seek to involve stakeholders through all project stages from project conception, to implementation, evaluation and knowledge updating. Finally, we should only see the first iteration of the research process as complete when new knowledge is applied operationally with monitoring and ongoing evaluation in place.