Is wildlife research useful for wildlife conservation in the tropics? A review for Borneo with global implications

Abstract

The urgency of the tropical biodiversity crisis continues to be a major justification for wildlife research and its funding. To examine the benefits of this research for on-the-ground conservation, we focused on Borneo, where conservation has a long history and we have direct experience. We compiled, categorized and evaluated 284 publications from a broad variety of sources, 153 from peer-reviewed journals. We found that few studies address threats to species and fewer still provide input for or guidance to effective management. We consider various reasons for these shortcomings. Research is seldom judged on its relevance to pragmatic problem solving. Furthermore, many research programs lack the necessary long-term vision and organizational structure for useful applied research. We consulted conservation leaders about our conclusions and all responses suggest that our concerns are not unique to Borneo but reflect wider problems. We conclude that conservation research across most of the tropics is failing to address conservation needs. We make a number of recommendations based on our findings. Conservation biologists should place a higher priority on addressing practical conservation needs and goals.

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Abbreviations

IUCN:

World Conservation Union

NGO:

Non-governmental organization

USAID:

US Agency for International Development

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Acknowledgments

This study was carried out as a part of the project on Forest, Science and Sustainability: Bulungan (Malinau) Model Forest, PD12/97 Rev. 1 (F) funded by the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) and implemented by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the Forest Research and Development Agency (FORDA) of the Ministry of Forestry of Indonesia. Additional support was provided by a grant from the EC and by UNESCO to CIFOR. Many thanks to the many colleagues who helped us search for and identify potentially relevant literature—especially Kuswata Kartawinata, Levania Santosa Nining Liswanti, Barry Rosenbaum and the CIFOR and BIOTROP library staff. Many thanks too to the Australian National University for allowing EM access to their library as a visiting scholar. We thank Andy Plumptre, John Robinson, Jeff Sayer, Wes Sechrest, Mike Hoffmann, Peter Kareiva, Leon Bennun, Glyn Davies, and Paul Jepson for responding to our request for input, and Russ Mittermeier for discussing this with one of us. Finally, we are grateful to Peter Kareiva, Vincent Nijman, Gabriella Fredriksson, and four anonymous reviewers, for their extensive comments on an earlier draft of this paper.

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Correspondence to Erik Meijaard.

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Meijaard, E., Sheil, D. Is wildlife research useful for wildlife conservation in the tropics? A review for Borneo with global implications. Biodivers Conserv 16, 3053–3065 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-007-9161-y

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Keywords

  • Applied research
  • Critique
  • Priorities
  • Research Funding
  • Wildlife