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Determining the biases and consistency in the evidence for conservation biology

Determining the biases and consistency in the evidence for conservation biology

Lead supervisor: Prof William Sutherland

Co-supervisor:  Dr Tatsuya Amano

Project summary:

This project will provide new means of assessing published evidence, which will have implications across conservation and other policy fields. It will take advantage of the massive database compiled from our extensive (and continuing) search extracting research papers that test interventions. The output is expected to be a series of analyses examining questions relating to the variability in ecological responses to conservation interventions and testing means of dealing with this noise. Practitioners routinely make decisions without any formal analysis so this project aims to determine the rules they use and how that compares with the responses suggested by the analyses. 

What the student will be doing:

Through we have collated and summarised 4,500 papers on the responses to conservation interventions and have a catalogue of 7,000 further papers. The task will be to extract effect sizes of the response to various interventions from these papers along with data on location, taxa, experimental design, sample size etc. Then carry out a series of analyses examining the causes for consistency and variation across studies. As examples - can we weight studies according to the quality of the experimental design (e.g. are well replicated randomised controlled experiments more likely to give consistent results than other designs?)? Are some treatments (e.g. treatment of invasive plants) more globally repeatable than others (e.g. social interventions)? Is the variation in response greater than it is in medicine? What are the geographic features (closeness, latitude, biome etc) that give consistent results? We also aim to determine how practitioners actually deal with confusing conflicting information.


Amano, T., Lamming, J. & Sutherland, W.J. 2016. Spatial gaps in global biodiversity information and the role of citizen science.BioScience66:393–400. DOI: 10.1093/biosci/biw022.

Sutherland, W.J., Dicks, L.V., Ockendon, N. & Smith, R.K. (Eds.) 2015. What Works in Conservation. Open Book Publishers: Cambridge, UK. http://dx.doi. org/10.11647/OBP.0060

Walsh, J.C., Dicks, L.V. & Sutherland, W.J. 2015. The effect of scientific evidence on conservation practitioners’ management decisions. Conservation Biology 29: 88–98. DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12370.


Applicants may apply to the NERC DTP for funding for this project.