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Keywords:

  • communication;
  • conservation practices;
  • interdisciplinarity;
  • knowledge transfer;
  • local stakeholders;
  • participatory research;
  • peer-review system;
  • research–implementation gap

ABSTRACT

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
  4. LITERATURE CITED

Conserving tropical ecosystems is one of the foremost challenges of the 21st century. Lately, conservation efforts have focused on advancing conservation through dialogue and interaction with and among diverse stakeholders. Knowledge sharing, and specifically the transfer of scientific knowledge, can raise ecological awareness among stakeholders and is necessary to facilitate dialogue, yet the communication of tropical scientific research to local stakeholders is rarely effectively implemented. Such a communication gap potentially undermines the conservation and management of natural resources. The papers in this special section highlight the difficulties and benefits of sharing ecological knowledge, as well as the underlying reasons for why a research–implementation gap has arisen.

in addition to harbouring high levels of biodiversity, tropical ecosystems provide many services and goods crucial for both human and global wellbeing. Yet it is precisely this dependency by human societies on, and their over-exploitation of, tropical ecosystem services and goods, that has caused the ongoing biodiversity tragedy. Conserving biodiversity in the tropics is one of the foremost challenges of the 21st century, and it is as much about conserving indigenous cultures and their sustainable livelihoods practices as it is about conserving tropical ecosystems (Bawa et al. 2004, Lovejoy 2009).

Despite a considerable body of scientific literature on resource use and the management and conservation of tropical environments, tropical deforestation continues at alarming rates (Butler & Laurance 2008). The limited success of conservation initiatives can be partly explained by researchers' failure to adequately exchange knowledge and understanding with local communities in tropical regions. Even if the necessity of scientific knowledge sharing is widely acknowledged, using it to increase ecological awareness across a wide range of stakeholders is poorly developed (du Toit et al. 2004), and indeed this deficiency has been labeled the ‘research–implementation gap’ (Knight et al. 2008). This failure of communication may have also contributed to society's ignorance of the relevance of environmental degradation to human welfare. A research–implementation gap has been recognized in other sectors, such as public health, but has been adequately mitigated because the direct cost of communication failure is high in these sectors (van Kerkhoff & Lebel 2006). In ecology and conservation such failures in knowledge transfer hinder the translation of research outcomes into effective action, and tackling this challenge should be a priority for ecological and conservation sciences in tropical environments.

Awareness of the research–implementation gap is growing, and governments and funding agencies are increasingly demanding verification of impact of scientific results in conservation and development sectors. Researchers are now expected to actively participate in the social discourse, take responsibility for their findings, and share their knowledge with nonscientists as the first steps towards the appropriate application of knowledge (van Kerkhoff & Lebel 2006). Integrating other kinds of knowledge into biological research requires collaboration with other scientific disciplines, as well as partnering with various stakeholders and civil society. Such interdisciplinarity has proved challenging because of the difficulties of communicating among disparate participants, but it is vital for improving research relevance and the useful application of knowledge in meeting conservation objectives (Balmford & Bond 2005, Balmford & Cowling 2006).

In this special section, authors discuss the difficulties and benefits of sharing knowledge, as well as the underlying reasons for the research–implementation gap in tropical ecology and conservation research. Understanding knowledge dissemination pathways is the foundation for their improvement. What is the target audience of scientific results? Are the communication pathways addressing this audience? Are there suitable incentives to encourage the sharing of knowledge, often after the research is completed? Shanley & López (2009) discuss these concerns from the researcher's perspective. Currently, the scientific standing of researchers depends to a large extent on the number of publications a scientist produces and the impact factor of the journals in which articles are published, and there is little recognition for transferring research findings to the public domain. Lowman (2009) suggests that the ultimate aim of research is, or at least should be, its useful application and implementation. In her article on canopy research, she highlights the challenges associated with the need to create new metrics for gauging success in research.

The mitigation of increasingly complex human and environmental challenges requires effective collaboration among different disciplines, such as the biological, social and political sciences (du Toit et al. 2004, Balmford & Cowling 2006, Sunderland et al. 2009). Collaboration between ecologists and social scientists in tropical environments is particularly beneficial to both science and society, since humans and ecosystems are highly codependent in tropical ecosystems. Are current research projects sufficiently interdisciplinary and aware of local realities to meet their conservation goals? Do researchers communicate findings to local stakeholders, who are usually the key decision makers, in such a way that decisions on resource use and conservation are made with the full benefit of research findings and acceptance from the stakeholders involved? In addition, is conservation science open to valuable feedback from practitioners who are tasked with implementing research results? Are we collaborating and assisting local tropical institutions and universities to tackle locally relevant complex problems (Sunderland et al. 2009)?

Decisions on how to best manage natural resources and the environment are often influenced by the costs and benefits of alternative land uses as perceived by different stakeholders. In most of the tropics, local stakeholders' livelihoods are closely associated with the local ecosystems, and they are thus direct and ultimate decision makers. Lovejoy (2009) highlights the importance of sharing our knowledge with these stakeholders, who live in the ‘vicinity of our research’, because they have a very personal stake and can be great advocates for conservation. Thus, partnering with local communities and including their needs and interests in research is crucial for conservation. A participatory approach is advocated by several authors in this special section (Garnett et al. 2009, Kainer et al. 2009, Shackleton et al. 2009) to ensure research relevance in a social context. Participatory research encourages continued communication between scientists and decision makers, which is needed for the acceptance and implementation of research findings and for transforming policy and practice.

Kainer et al. (2009) reveals strategies for integrating local communities into the research process and sharing knowledge with them. Shackleton et al. (2009) focus in particular on researchers engaging with social learning processes through active participation. The aim is that learning through scientific processes will lead to ongoing collective action and long-term changes on the ground. Garnett et al. (2009) take a step further and present examples in which community members were employed as coresearchers. The particular benefit of the latter approach is that key individuals, who could not otherwise participate because of other time and financial constraints, are included in the research process giving them genuine influence over the research process.

Disseminating research results to a broad audience, handling the demands of the various stakeholders without suppressing conservation issues, and establishing a partnership with local communities with the necessary respect and trust from both sides, are three among many aspects that are critical to conducting research in the tropics. Do scientists have the appropriate training to meet this requirement for broad-based communication? Duchelle et al. (2009) describe how graduate programs in tropical biology and conservation can prepare the next generation of scientists with the necessary education and skills for this challenge.

What is clear from all the contributions to this special section is that it is high time for researchers to find ways to improve knowledge sharing for a sustainable future. The ball is in the researchers' court.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
  4. LITERATURE CITED

This special section was inspired by the 2007 ATBC Annual Meeting (Morelia, Mexico) title ‘Linking tropical biology with human dimensions’ and grew out of the symposia ‘Natural services in local context: Opportunities and barriers to uptake’. We would like to thank the symposium speakers, the authors, and many others who contributed to shaping this issue, for sharing their insights and knowledge with us. Their continued motivation and support made this special section possible. We also would like to thank S. Krishnan, who organized the symposium with us. J. Ghazoul, H. Aslin and L. P. Koh kindly reviewed this manuscript.

LITERATURE CITED

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
  4. LITERATURE CITED