The Task Remains the Same


The Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) defines itself as a global community of conservation professionals. Each of the four words global, community, conservation, and professionals, chosen with great care, reflects both the changes and the enduring challenges we confront as we strive to advance the science and practice of conserving Earth's biological diversity. Aldo Leopold characterized living on a piece of land without spoiling it as the oldest task in human history. On land and at sea, we are far from completing the task.

Conservation Biology is a primary mechanism through which SCB seeks to achieve its mission. It is a tremendous honor to serve as the fourth editor of this journal, succeeding the inimitable Gary Meffe (1997–2009), Reed Noss (1993–1997), and David Ehrenfeld (1987–1993). It is a privilege to work closely with managing editor Ellen Main, editorial assistant Margaret Flagg, our four new associate editors, Steven Brechin, Michael (Mick) McCarthy, Tim McClanahan, and Javier Simonetti, our dynamic board of handling editors, and our publisher, Wiley–Blackwell. This team has extraordinary experience in producing a fine periodical. Our editors collectively have broad and deep expertise in natural and social sciences; in terrestrial, freshwater, and marine biomes; in the realities of conservation under different governance and social systems; and in turning a phrase.

My foremost goal as editor-in-chief is to maintain the standards of scientific quality, applicability to management and policy, and editorial fairness that have made Conservation Biology the most respected international journal in conservation science. The editorial team shares the objective of continuing to increase the journal's impact. I welcome your input in identifying measures of its impact that go beyond citation rates. I hope we then can develop an adaptive strategy that articulates how we expect specific actions in the journal's editorial or dissemination process to yield those desired results. In essence, I think the scientific method should be applied not only to the work published in Conservation Biology but to the aspirations and operations of the journal. For instance, we are calling more explicitly for manuscripts that relate unsuccessful conservation interventions. Will greater openness about failures increase our effectiveness? By treating this and other questions or assumptions about the journal as hypotheses, we will be well positioned to collect appropriate data and to make rational decisions about the direction of the journal.

Our editorial team also shares the perennial objective that time to publication of articles will decrease. Please reaffirm your commitment to our mutual conservation mission by providing timely reviews for the journal and by responding promptly to requests for revision. The incessant impediment to rapid publication is time in review and revision. Gary Meffe noted this fact in his first and last editorials as journal editor (and in at least one editorial in the interim), and the message is far from novel. Fast turnarounds are in the best interest of authors, the journal, and conservation. Our community is not partitioned into those who publish and those who review. Most productive professionals are quite busy, and in most contexts one person's busy is no more important than another person's busy. Indeed, equitable treatment of authors and members regardless of professional renown is a trademark of Conservation Biology and SCB. If you have the motivation and ability to contribute, we invite and urgently need you as authors, reviewers, and editors.

The majority of the content in Conservation Biology, like any peer-reviewed journal, depends on the submissions we receive. I have augmented the statistical, geospatial, and modeling expertise of the journal's editorial board to keep pace with advances in quantitative methods, computing, and their application to conservation science and practice. I also have expanded our capacity in the social sciences, marine conservation, and climate change. Beyond the research papers, I hope our editorials and other commentaries will help attract readers—perhaps including some lay readers—and encourage debate about difficult and sometimes uncomfortable issues.

Our global editorial team is dedicated to enhancing the geographic representation of authors, ecological systems, and cultures in Conservation Biology. The SCB has been a global organization since its inception, but for many years struggled to expand its composition and value outside the United States. In the early 2000s, under the leadership of Dee Boersma and Mac Hunter, SCB made internationalization a top priority. The SCB developed seven vigorous regional sections, one for each of the inhabited continents plus the marine realm. We held meetings in Australia (1998), Europe (2002), South America (2005), South Africa (2007), and Asia (2009). As members of the Board of Governors and editorial board of the journal finished their terms, we actively tried to diversify the geographic affiliations of these boards. Three of the four associate editors of Conservation Biology are based outside the United States—in Australia, Kenya, and Chile. In addition to their editorial service, the associate editors will play an important role in encouraging submissions and exploring alliances with other professional societies and peer-reviewed publications.

Neither SCB nor this journal, as Mac Hunter emphasized in an SCB newsletter editorial in 2002, is making “a neo-imperialistic attempt to increase the global influence of North American conservation biologists.” Instead, we want to foster sharing of knowledge and perspectives worldwide. In partnership with Wiley–Blackwell, we will continue to ensure that conservation professionals can access the journal content regardless of financial resources. Since 2006, online access to Conservation Biology has been available to all SCB members in good standing in developing countries. The journal also is freely available in low-income countries through the Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture (AGORA) initiative of the Food and Agriculture Organization and the Online Access to Research in the Environment (OARE) Initiative of the United Nations Environment Programme.

We receive many inquiries and manuscripts from authors whose first language is not English. We strive to ensure that difficulties with communicating in English do not impede publication in Conservation Biology. If we find that the writing in a manuscript prohibits effective interpretation of its content, we return it without prejudice and request that the authors work more closely with a fluent English speaker. Although our editorial office unfortunately is unable to edit manuscripts before their submission, I enthusiastically support efforts by SCB's regional sections to provide writing mentors to their members. As in the past, manuscripts that are intelligible and meet our criteria for scientific merit and relevance, but perhaps are not highly polished, will be sent for review. We will continue to work closely with authors on language and style after their papers have been accepted. Furthermore, we will continue to offer workshops on the publication process, primarily geared toward students and early-career professionals, at SCB's global and other meetings.

Interaction is the hallmark of a community. The SCB is not a haphazard assemblage; rather, we are a group of people who provide each other with information, insights, guidance, and support. In a 2008 profile in The New Yorker, Gary Snyder said, “I [have] preferred not to distinguish in poetry between nature and humanity… all of these beings are part of my community, and I would like to be able to say hello to each of them.” As the social sciences gain prominence within SCB, so does our editorial team seek to increase the proportion of articles about environmental anthropology, economics, geography, policy, psychology, sociology, and history.

It is well known that conservation requires changes in human behavior. I hope the journal will advance discussion of the inevitable trade-offs among personal liberty, quality of human life, and conservation of natural resources. Should concerns about endocrine disruption, for example, affect options for reproductive freedom? More importantly, I hope the journal will present reliable data to inform those discussions. Will constraining allocations of surface water that bolster food security protect a rapidly dwindling fish? If more water is left instream, to what extent will agricultural production decline? There are no easy or universally correct answers to questions about values, but the journal can serve society by offering reliable data from which to form opinions.

Although most of us try not to pass judgment on others’ personal positions or choices, it remains difficult to argue with the equation impact = population × affluence × technology introduced nearly 40 years ago by Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren. In his article in this issue, David Johns discusses the opportunities for action and political influence offered by the International Year of Biodiversity, proclaimed for 2010 by the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations. We anticipate that several more contributions throughout the year will expand on this theme.

Principles of conservation have not changed since our community first organized. All else being equal, many populations with many individuals are still better than few populations with few individuals, extensive and connected natural areas are better than small and isolated areas, and maintenance of heterogeneity in space and time is better than homogenization of landscapes or genes. Clearly, society has yet to adjust to these truths in ways that maintain the full diversity of species, systems, and processes. Stewards of biological diversity long have pondered how to market the conservation mission to policy makers and the public. We have framed conservation goals in terms of biodiversity, ecosystem services, carbon footprints, resilience, health, and integrity. But we cannot allow clever salesmanship to obfuscate credible science. Our editorial team will renew its effort to ensure that to the greatest extent possible, concepts appearing in the journal are defined in clear, measurable terms.

The SCB and Conservation Biology recognize that although many decisions about natural resources have little to do with science, we have a responsibility to deliver the best-available science to diverse practitioners. Our community includes not only researchers based in academia, but also resource managers, educators, government and private conservation workers, and students. Stephen Humphrey often shares Louis Pasteur's admonition, “No, a thousand times no; there does not exist a category of science to which one can give the name applied science. There are science and the applications of science, bound together as the fruit to the tree which bears it.” Thus, Conservation Biology does not regard research intended specifically to inform management and policy as some bastardized version of “pure” science. For the manuscript category “Conservation Practice and Policy” (a union of the former “Conservation in Practice” and “Conservation and Policy” sections), we call for papers that describe applications of conservation science to specific goals for management, policy, or education. We seek examples not only of successes, but surprising outcomes that provided opportunities for learning.

It is a consistent struggle not to be discouraged by the status and trends of many metrics of conservation success. Inspiration often comes from engaging our imaginations, senses, and hearts with the places and peoples we love and respect. The incoming book reviews editor, Kent Redford, is experimenting with new editorial formats to canvass a greater number and diversity of books and other media. I also am pleased that we have entered into a partnership with the International League of Conservation Photographers. During 2010, the journal covers will feature work by superior photographers with a demonstrable, sustained involvement in conservation.

Since I began handling new manuscripts 6 months ago, I have been fascinated and buoyed by the range of topics our community is addressing and the innovative solutions that are proposed. Regardless of their fate in the editorial process, the overwhelming majority of manuscripts have potential to increase our understanding of Earth and our ability to make a difference. I look forward to working with all of you to advance the science and practice of conservation.