Is there a special conservation biology?


  • This is an invited Minireview on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Nordic Ecological Society Oikos.


Conservation biology is special to the extent that it fills useful roles in the scientific and conservation fields that are not being filled by practitioners of other disciplines. The emergence of the “new conservation biology” in the late 1970's and its blossoming in the 1980's and 1990's reflect, to a large degree, a failure of traditional academic ecology and the natural resource disciplines to address modern conservation problems adequately. Yet, to be successful conservation biology, as an interdisciplinary field, must build on the strengths of other disciplines both basic and applied. The new conservation biology grew out of concern over extinction of species, although the field has expanded to include issues about management of several levels of biological organization. I examine four controversial questions of importance to conservation biologists today: 1) are there any robust principles of conservation biology? 2) Is advocacy an appropriate activity of conservation biologists? 3) Are we educating conservation biologists properly? 4) Is conservation biology distinct from other biological and resource management disciplines? I answer three of these questions with a tentative “yes” and one (3) with a regretful “in most cases, no.” I see a need for broader Training for students of conservation biology, more emphasis on collecting basic field data, compelling applications of conservation biology to real problems, increased influence on policy, and expansion of the international scope of the discipline. If all these occur, conservation biology will by truly special.