Our favourite conservation journal articles of 2021

As in 2020, some of us from ICON Science wanted to share journal papers that we found particularly exciting, insightful, or pertinent to our research. A synopsis of each paper is provided below, and as you would expect from an interdisciplinary team, they cover a diverse range of topics and disciplines. That’s what makes being part of ICON so fun! We hope you enjoy these picks.

Have a wonderful rest of the year and we look forward to connecting in 2022.

Alex Kusmanoff

The potential for applying “Nonviolent Communication” in conservation science.

Williams, B. A., Simmons, B. A., Ward, M., Beher, J., Dean, A. J., Nou, T., … & Klein, C. J. (2021). The potential for applying “Nonviolent Communication” in conservation science. Conservation Science and Practice, 3(11), e540.

This paper outlines non-violent communication (NVC) as one potentially useful approach for improving our conservation communication.

In nutshell, NVT is a dialogue approach to interpersonal communications that fosters understanding and connection through communicating judgement free observations and recognition of people’s feelings needs and values.

This approach has been used successfully in a number of other areas, and the authors provide some examples of how this approach may be used in a conservation context. It is well-worth reading.

NVT is aimed chiefly at person-to-person communications, and in this context its tenets seem to align with common sense. Yet it is telling that this is something that not only an approach that has needed to be formalised, but that we in conservation must be prompted to aspire to using it.

For me, the key point is not necessarily that we should use NVT specifically (although it offers good guidance), but a reminder that we should more often seek to engage in a dialogue rather than to simply broadcast our ‘science’ assuming that this will cure the public or decision makers’ lack of knowledge, if only they’d listen…

However, I’m also mindful that oftentimes it is necessary and efficacious to diagnose problems, identify causes and culprits and provide moral suasion for taking action (e.g. Entman 1993). This is almost the exact opposite approach to the dialogue proposed by NVT. 

This apparent dichotomy ultimately reinforces the realisation that for effective conservation communications we must be strategic. We must have a clear audience and goal in mind and use the approach that is most suited to the context. This paper reminds us that, at least for interpersonal communication, engaging in a dialogue that builds common ground has value and should not be overlooked.

Emily Gregg

Re-conceptualizing the role(s) of science in biodiversity conservation

Evans, M. C., 2021. Re-conceptualizing the role(s) of science in biodiversity conservation. Environmental Conservation: 1-10.

This paper thoughtfully interrogates the objectives, assumptions and research philosophies underpinning much of conservation science. I love the exploration of different frames of conservation in the conservation science literature over time, from “nature for itself” to “nature despite people” to “peoples and natures”. This article made me think a lot about the dominant ecological lens used in conservation science research and practice, and consider other pathways, disciplines and voices that may be valuable – or even critical – in progressing research and policy for conservation.

Holly Kirk

Street lighting has detrimental impacts on local insect populations.

Boyes, D. H., Evans, D. M., Fox, R., Parsons, M. S., & Pocock, M., 2021. Street lighting has detrimental impacts on local insect populations. Science advances7(35), eabi8322.

Invertebrates are the often-overlooked victims of our impact on the natural world, and nocturnal invertebrates are even easier to forget, going about their business while we sleep. Adult moths (night-flying butterflies) and their larvae are an important part of many ecosystems, both as pollinators and prey items. But as we have bent so many of those ecosystems to suit our needs, we have also changed the night, lighting it up to suit our daytime-adapted eyes. Artificial light at night (ALAN) can have many detrimental effects on biodiversity, altering avian sleeping cycles and causing direct mortality for some light-attracted species. Light pollution is increasing, so understanding exactly how this may impact our vital invertebrate fauna is important if we want to help mitigate the increasing pressure we put on our ecosystems.

I chose this paper authored by Douglas Boyes et al. for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s an excellent field-based study that clearly demonstrates the negative impact that ALAN has on moth abundance (33-47% declines in different habitat types). The work also highlights that broad-spectrum white LED lights are having a greater detrimental effect than more yellow-toned lights, which has useful implications for applying this knowledge in Biodiversity Sensitive Urban Design. Finally, and sadly, Douglas died suddenly this year at a very young age. I never had the pleasure of meeting him, but his work and his advocacy for the little, overlooked lives that make up our wonderful natural world has continued to inspire me.

Katie Berthon

How wild bees find a way in European cities: pollen metabarcoding unravels multiple feeding strategies and their effects on distribution patterns in four wild bee species.

Casanelles‐Abella, J., Müller, S., Keller, A., Aleixo, C., Alós Orti, M., Chiron, F., Deguines, N., Hallikma, T., Laanisto, L., Pinho, P. and Samson, R., 2021. How wild bees find a way in European cities: pollen metabarcoding unravels multiple feeding strategies and their effects on distribution patterns in four wild bee species. Journal of Applied Ecology

How do you know what a bee is eating? You can either watch it for hours to see what it is foraging on (like I did with my PhD) or you can look at the pollen it collects. Most people look at pollen during a single foraging trip (something I also dabbled with) but the authors of this paper took it one step further and collected pollen from larval trap nests that gives us an idea of what a bee has collected over an entire season. This lets us know not only what bees are foraging on, but also what they are feeding to their offspring. This is an important thing to study because adult diets can be quite different from youngsters but also its really important that bees can live and reproduce in our urban areas. If we don’t provide the right foodstuffs we might be making greenspaces into ‘ecological traps’ that attract bees but don’t provide them all the necessary resources to thrive. 10/10 would read again.

Marco Gutierrez

Mitigating the Impacts of Development Corridors on Biodiversity: A Global Review.

Juffe-Bignoli, D., Burgess, N.D., Hobbs, J., Smith, R.J., Tam, C., Thorn, J.P. and Bull, J.W., 2021. Mitigating the Impacts of Development Corridors on Biodiversity: A Global Review. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 9:683949.

At a time of a ‘global infrastructure boom,’ Diego and collaborators review the academic literature addressing the impacts of development corridors on biodiversity. Their review reveals serious issues with how biodiversity impacts are considered in the design and implementation of these infrastructure projects and how they are managed. Most studies in their review assess impacts on biodiversity that are directly attributable to a given project but disregard effects of an indirect or cumulative nature, which can be crucial in development corridors. Mitigation of biodiversity impacts is also deficient as it does not appear to follow best practice. Their findings are relevant given development corridors will likely continue to be implemented in the future. While such projects are done with clear social and economic objectives in mind, it is also essential that their biodiversity impacts are assessed and managed appropriately so that they do not contribute to further biodiversity loss.

Matthew Selinske

Using a randomized controlled trial to develop conservation strategies on rented farmlands

Weigel, C., Harden, S., Masuda, Y.J., Ranjan, P., Wardropper, C.B., Ferraro, P.J., Prokopy, L. and Reddy, S., 2021. Using a randomized controlled trial to develop conservation strategies on rented farmlands. Conservation Letters, 14(4), p.e12803.

I found Weigel et al. (2021) salient because it combined to two interests of mine, private land conservation and behavioral science. The authors used a randomised controlled trial to test the effectiveness of a behavioral nudge or financial incentive to persuade owners to enroll their agricultural lands into a conservation program. Neither had an effect on enriollment, which is interesting in itself. But what made this paper stand out to me was that they demonstrated the mismatch between expressed willingness to participate (by survey) and actual uptake of the program (remote sensing of farms). From the paper “If the program were evaluated based on survey results, which inflated take-up by 10–30 times, the program would appear to be a massive success“. We all need to keep this in mind when evaluating trials and programs. Intentions ≠ behavior!

Pia Lentini

Conservation needs to break free from global priority mapping

Wyborn, C. & Evans, M.C. (2021). Conservation needs to break free from global priority mapping. Nature Ecology & Evolution 5, pp.1322-1324.

I feel like when this paper was published you could almost feel a large chunk of the conservation community collectively nodding along in agreement and relief. Sure, the sentiment of “global priority maps are sexy and all but what good do they actually do us” is something that many of us have expressed before, but a random pub rant does not a great paper maketh. Instead, enter Evans & Wyborn, who in an elegant and compelling way, supported by evidence, explain why focussing on the global at the cost of local knowledge ultimately undermines conservation efforts. I hope a few more people will now stop and think about whether they really do actually need to create a global map, and if so, what the mechanisms are that will link the creation of the map to the use and implementation of the knowledge synthesised and developed in the process.

Thami Croeser

Small vegetated patches greatly reduce urban surface temperature during a summer heatwave in Adelaide, Australia

Ossola, A., Jenerette, G.D., McGrath, A., Chow, W., Hughes, L. and Leishman, M.R., 2021. Small vegetated patches greatly reduce urban surface temperature during a summer heatwave in Adelaide, Australia. Landscape and Urban Planning, 209, p.104046.

This study is valuable in that it quantifies something we already knew, in a precise way. By taking aerial thermal readings of Adelaide during a heatwave, the authors show that areas with canopy trees are up to six degrees cooler than unvegetated areas. Grassed areas also had a significant (but lower) cooling effect. This shows the value of establishing understorey planting alongside young trees to promote urban cooling. This was my favourite paper because it was really impactful, with plenty of cover in the press.

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