Are fieldwork studies being relegated to second place in conservation science?

Rios-Saldana, C. Antonio; Delibes-Mateos, Miguel; Ferreira, Catarina C.

VL / 14 - BP / - EP /
The collection of biological information, including data gathered in the field, is fundamental to improve our understanding of how human impacts on biological systems can be recognized, mitigated or averted. However, the role of empirical field research has faded appreciably in the past decades with sobering implications. Indeed, important instruments to help set national and global priorities in biodiversity conservation (i.e. synthetic analyses and big data approaches) can be severely handicapped by a lack of sound observational data, collected through fieldwork. We analyzed publication trends in the conservation literature from 1980 to 2014 to ascertain whether there is reason for concern about a potential decrease in fieldwork-based investigations compared to other types of studies. Here, we show that the proportion of fieldwork-based investigations in the conservation literature dropped significantly from the 1980s until today; indeed, fieldwork-based publications decreased by 20% in comparison to a rise of 600% and 800% in modelling and data analysis studies, respectively. In parallel, we found that the most highly cited academic journals in conservation science published fieldwork studies less frequently than the lower rank journals. We contend that an apparent decrease in fieldwork-based investigations is the result of bottom-up pressures, including those associated with the publishing and the academic reward systems, while a second set acts top-down, driven by current societal needs and/or priorities. We urge researchers, funders and journals to commit, respectively, to conducting, funding and divulging relevant fieldwork research, and make some recommendations on specific steps that can be adopted in that direction. (C) 2018 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V.
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