The Value, Limitations, and Challenges of Employing Local Experts in Conservation Research

Authors

  • MARK ELBROCH,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Conservation Biology, 1088 Academic Surge, University of California Davis, One Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616, U.S.A.
      email lmelbroch@ucdavis.edu These authors contributed equally to this work.
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  • TUYENI H. MWAMPAMBA,

    Corresponding author
    1. Centro de Investigaciones en Geografía Ambiental, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico Campus Morelia, Antigua carretera a Pátzcuaro No. 8701, Col. Ex-hacienda de San José de La Huerta, C. P. 58190, Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico
      These authors contributed equally to this work.
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  • MARIA J. SANTOS,

    1. Center for Spatial Technologies and Remote Sensing, Department of Land, Air and Water Resources, University of California Davis, One Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616, U.S.A.
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  • MAXINE ZYLBERBERG,

    1. Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior, University of California Davis, One Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616, U.S.A.
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  • LOUIS LIEBENBERG,

    1. Cyber Tracker Conservation, P.O. Box 962, Bellville, Cape Town 7535, South Africa
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  • JAMES MINYE,

    1. Cyber Tracker Conservation, P.O. Box 962, Bellville, Cape Town 7535, South Africa
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  • CHRISTOPHER MOSSER,

    1. Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Conservation Biology, 1088 Academic Surge, University of California Davis, One Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616, U.S.A.
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  • ERIN REDDY

    1. Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Conservation Biology, 1088 Academic Surge, University of California Davis, One Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616, U.S.A.
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email lmelbroch@ucdavis.edu

These authors contributed equally to this work.

Abstract

Abstract: Evidence suggests that the involvement of local people in conservation work increases a project's chances of success. Involving citizen scientists in research, however, raises questions about data quality. As a tool to better assess potential participants for conservation projects, we developed a knowledge gradient, K, along which community members occupy different positions on the basis of their experience with and knowledge of a research subject. This gradient can be used to refine the citizen–science concept and allow researchers to differentiate between community members with expert knowledge and those with little knowledge. We propose that work would benefit from the inclusion of select local experts because it would allow researchers to harness the benefits of local involvement while maintaining or improving data quality. We used a case study from the DeHoop Nature Preserve, South Africa, in which we conducted multiple interviews, identified and employed a local expert animal tracker, evaluated the expert's knowledge, and analyzed the data collected by the expert. The expert animal tracker J.J. created his own sampling design and gathered data on mammals. He patrolled 4653 km in 214 days and recorded 4684 mammals. He worked from a central location, and his patrols formed overlapping loops; however, his data proved neither spatially nor temporally autocorrelated. The distinctive data collected by J.J. are consistent with the notion that involving local experts can produce reliable data. We developed a conceptual model to help identify the appropriate participants for a given project on the basis of research budget, knowledge or skills needed, technical literacy requirements, and scope of the project.

Abstract

Resumen: Las evidencias sugieren que la participación de habitantes locales en el trabajo de conservación incrementa la probabilidad de éxito de un proyecto. Sin embargo, involucrar a científicos ciudadanos genera interrogantes sobre la calidad de los datos. Como una herramienta para evaluar a potenciales participantes en proyectos de conservación, desarrollamos un gradiente de conocimiento, K, en el que los miembros de la comunidad ocupan diferentes posiciones con base en su experiencia y conocimiento de un tema de investigación. Este gradiente puede ser utilizado para refinar el concepto de ciencia-ciudadana y permite que los investigadores diferencien a los miembros de la comunidad con conocimiento experto de los que tienen poco conocimiento. Proponemos que el trabajo se beneficiaría con la inclusión de expertos locales selectos porque permitiría que los investigadores aprovechen los beneficios de la participación local al mismo tiempo que mantienen o incrementan la calidad de los datos. Utilizamos un caso de estudio de la Reserva Natural DeHoop, Sudáfrica, donde realizamos múltiples entrevistas, identificamos y empleamos a un experto local en el rastreo de animales, evaluamos el conocimiento del experto y analizamos los datos recolectados por el experto. El rastreador experto de animales, J.J., creó su propio diseño de muestreo y recolectó datos de mamíferos. J.J. recorrió 4653 km en 214 días y registró 4684 mamíferos. Trabajaba en una localidad central, y sus recorridos formaron círculos sobrepuestos; sin embargo, sus datos no estuvieron autocorrelacionados espacial ni temporalmente. Los datos recolectados por J.J., el experto, son consistentes con la idea de que los expertos locales pueden producir datos confiables. Desarrollamos un modelo conceptual para identificar a participantes apropiados para un proyecto determinado basado en el presupuesto, el conocimiento o habilidades requeridas, los requerimientos de conocimientos técnicos y el alcance del proyecto.

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