My sea turtle hazard is worse than your sea turtle hazard

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.org
My sea turtle hazard is worse than your sea turtle hazard. Of course. Sounds logical.

And more importantly it falls within that quirky social dynamic called HUMAN NATURE.  But the results of bias within the scientific community is an interesting topic; especially when you add the sea turtle variable and the number of threats plaguing the seven species.  So put any preconceived notions that you may have aside and let’s see if we can all come together and accept the fact that the hazard I’m researching poses the greatest threat to sea turtles.

Well, perhaps we should turn to the experts and listen to what they have to say.  And that’s exactly what the authors of a new publication, Using Expert Opinion Surveys to Rank Threats to Endangered Species: A Case Study with Sea Turtles, in Conservation Biology did.  And should we really be surprised by the findings?

An internet-based survey was distributed to sea turtle experts that was designed to determine the respondents’ overall experience, expertise and the proficiency in regards to particular species, geographic regions, and hazards.   Hazards that included pathogens, direct take, global warming, nest predation, pollution, coastal development, and fisheries bycatch.  After quantifying results spanning the nonprofit sector, government agencies, and respondents in over 100 counties, a pattern began to emerge.  A pattern attributed to expert bias.

“Respondents with no experience with respect to a sea turtle species tended to rank hazards affecting that species higher than respondents with experience.  A more-striking pattern was with hazard-based expertise: the more experience a respondent had with a specific hazard, the higher the respondent scored the impact of that hazard on sea turtle populations.”

Perhaps a sign of the times, everyone was in agreement that sea turtles were under threat from. It also became apparent that there was an overall consensus on the greatest hazard, fisheries bycatch.  The survey found:

  • Bycatch was ranked as the top hazard for 18 sea turtle populations.
  • Coastal development was ranked as the top hazard for six populations.
  • Nest predation was the top hazard for three populations.

Interesting!  And I guess that exclamation warrants further development if I expect it to make any sense.  Although bycatch, a pelagic threat, ranked as a top hazard for 18 populations, a disparity still exists between coastal development and nest predation, which are terrestrial and coastal threats.  The amount of invested resources does not correspond to the highly scored pelagic threat.

The authors point out that, “Twenty-eight percent of survey respondents reported conducting research or activities focused in the pelagic environment, compared with 70% who conducted research in both terrestrial and coastal environments.”

Which rounds off the discussion as to its applicability to conservation.  Should statistical methods that account for expert bias be implemented by conservation planning programs?  And should hazards that are both highly scored by experts and have a high uncertainty in regards to the range of effect on a population be treated as a research priority?

Well one thing is for certain and I agree completely with the authors that, “Priority setting for the conservation of threatened and endangered species cannot wait for exhaustive empirical research.”


ResearchBlogging.org
DONLAN, C., WINGFIELD, D., CROWDER, L., & WILCOX, C. (2010). Using Expert Opinion Surveys to Rank Threats to Endangered Species: A Case Study with Sea Turtles Conservation Biology DOI: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2010.01541.x

About The Author

Scott serves as Director of Development & Communications for Audubon Canyon Ranch (focusing on preservation, education and conservation science) and has almost fifteen years of experience spanning for-profit and nonprofit sectors in biotech, wildlife conservation and management, communications, and philanthropy. In addition to a strong track record in organizational growth and leadership, he is the founder of Urban Bird Foundation and Burrowing Owl Conservation Network, and presided over ECHO Fund, a coastal protection and restoration organization, as President for four years. Scott holds an M.A. in Environmental Studies with a concentration in Sustainable Development and Policy, degrees in Micro & Molecular Biology and Environmental Sciences, and has complemented his studies with a Master's certificate in Environmental Resource Management.

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