Safety in numbers? Supplanting data quality with fanciful models in wildlife monitoring and conservation
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- Blanco, G., Sergio, F., Sanchéz-Zapata, J.A. et al. Biodivers Conserv (2012) 21: 3269. doi:10.1007/s10531-012-0344-9
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Ecologists and conservation biologists seem increasingly attracted to sophisticated modelling approaches, sometimes at the expense of attention to data quality and appropriateness of fieldwork design. This dissociation may lead to a loss of perspective promoting biological unrealities as conclusions, which may be used in conservation applications. We illustrate this concern by focusing on recent attempts to estimate population size of breeding birds at large scales without any explicit testing of the reliability of the predictions through comparison with direct counts. Disconnection of analysts from “nature” can lead to cases of biological unrealities such as that used here to illustrate such trends. To counter this risk, we encourage investment in well-rounded scientists or more collaborative, multi-disciplinary teams capable of integrating sophisticated analyses with in-depth knowledge of the natural history of their study subjects.