We agree with Jenkins and Maxwell that a fundamental change in assessment criteria would help move conservation biology beyond publications and toward an active discipline that places science within the policy and management realm. We also encourage all conservation researchers to highlight in their résumés how their scientific results have been implemented by policymakers and practitioners in the field, as well as the resulting impact on biodiversity. However, we doubt that this would be sufficient to overcome the immense research-implementation divide prevailing in biodiversity conservation, which partly stems from the practices currently ruling research institutions.
The reward system in academia for conservation scientists is heavily focused on publications in peer-reviewed journals. Although we believe that peer-reviewed research must be maintained, we think it is only one dimension of effective conservation science. Conservation biology differs from other disciplines among the life sciences in that it is mission driven. However, the consequential trade-off that conservation scientists face when ensuring that their scientific evidence is employed by policymakers and conservation practitioners is ignored by almost all research institutions when assessing academics for employment, promotion, or grant funding.
One first idea for trying to overcome this is developing a system of accreditation that rewards the full spectrum of activities that conservation biologists play, similar to the patent-based accreditation system of engineers. In addition to the bottom-up approach suggested by Jenkins and Maxwell, we propose top-down evaluation rules be recognized by academia. Indexes for biodiversity conservation impact similar to the traditional metrics estimating publications output must be developed.
A second idea is for new scientific journals or sections in existing conservation journals to publish results that are not simply novel but are proven to be useful for regional conservation in practice. In these sections, authors would provide a letter of support from practitioners demonstrating that their work is of practical importance, similar to the traditional approach of engineers for progressing relevant work in their field. Journals may also systematically request practitioners to function as reviewers for judging the applicability of results. Such concepts would tighten the collaboration between conservation scientists and practitioners, optimally from the start of the research process, as shrewdly suggested by Jenkins and Maxwell, and would promote novel implementation pathways where there is no “established implementation process” to “escort recommendations through.”
We thank Jeffrey D. Camm, Guillaume Chapron, Liana Joseph, Rudi Suchant, and William J. Sutherland for sharing with us their views about the subject while preparing this reply.