CHAMPAIGN, Ill., 6/9/21: Scientists studying birds have the data, and conservation managers make the decisions in the field, but if the two groups collaborate, together they can form the best outcomes on real-world bird conservation issues, according to an Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) ecologist.
Translational ecology is a technique in which those who conduct the science and those who use the information partner to ensure that management decisions are scientifically based. The approach is especially applicable to issues such as conflicts between wind turbines and birds and predator management in which there are several opposing viewpoints, said Auriel Fournier, director of the INHS Forbes Biological Station.
“Often, what we see in traditional research is that scientists try to answer the scientific questions and then tie the information back to management of bird populations, but there is no discussion about the issues managers need to have addressed,” said Fournier. “As a result, there is a mismatch between the data and the issue that managers are dealing with. The conversation needs to start on day one with scientists soliciting feedback from folks on the ground.”
Translational ecology offers six principles, including collaboration, engagement, commitment, communication, process, and decision framing. In this process, other entities may become involved, including non-profits, organizations, government agencies, and university Extension.
All parties share their knowledge and commit to a long-term collaboration. Relationship-building gives individuals a sense of ownership in solving challenges and a decision framework that helps to achieve outcomes based on the managers’ needs, values, and timeframes.
In one example of how translational ecology works, the authors applied the technique to a conflict about free-roaming cats in Ontario, Canada. Wildlife enthusiasts recognize cats at threats to birds and small mammals, while others feel that cats benefit from having free range outdoors.
In the early 2010s, a group convened in Guelph, Ontario with representatives from humane societies, veterinary clinics, community science initiatives, government wildlife services, and ornithologists to form the Guelph Cat Population Task Force. The group co-authored a white paper compiling research related to birds and cats.
From this early work, Nature Canada created the coalition Keep Cats Safe and Save Bird Lives to foster an understanding of stakeholders’ values, goals, and diverse perspectives and emphasize their commonalities. Committee members promoted building relationships and buy-in of the shared goals. As a result, they identified needed research, developed policy recommendations, and promoted education.
“There are never easy answers to some issues related to bird conservation, particularly because these are not strictly scientific problems, but may also be social, political, and legal problems as well,” Fournier said. “By building partnerships through the translation ecology approach, data and information that managers will use can be exchanged.”
If the process is effective, policy makers’ and conservation managers’ decisions will be better informed and the science will be more applicable to real-world situations. Ideally, managers will be more open to considering different decisions than they might have made without the collaboration. In other cases, they may make the same decisions but have the knowledge needed to justify their choices.
Fournier is co-author of an article in the journal Ornithological Applications, which is available through certain university networks.
Media contact: Auriel Fournier, 217-300-8698, firstname.lastname@example.org