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Thirteen Things a Behavioral Biologist Can Do About Conservation**

(16 May 2002)
  1. Study an endangered species. Much of endangered species management is a quest for knowledge about the behavior and ecology of rare species. Decisions are routinely made with remarkably limited data, and not always by those trained in the scientific method. By studying endangered species, you can contribute to this needed dataset. More importantly, as a scientist, you should bring needed rigor to your studies and conclusions.

  2. Work in an endangered habitat. Even if you are not focusing on an endangered species, by working in an endangered habitat you will illustrate, by example, the value of the habitat, and you may be able to collect additional information that will be useful for endangered species management.

  3. Work on a question of conservation concern. Wildlife managers have many behavioral questions they need answered. It is often possible to collect needed ecological data while asking a variety of theoretically interesting behavioral questions. Strive to combine studies with both a theoretical and an applied objective.

  4. Study more than one species at a time. By studying several species simultaneously you will gain a much better understanding of how different species respond to the same ecological pressures. Whether they respond in the same way or differently will be good information for answering both conservation and behavioral questions. Managers and policy-makers often do not have the luxury of waiting for results. Studying more than once species at a time will generate more information more efficiently.

  5. Capitalize on these 'unnatural' experiments. Most behavioral researchers try to eliminate human influences in their research. By adding a component of human disturbance (e.g., fragmented versus intact field sites or subjects regularly trapped and weighed versus trapped once annually), you will generate information that also may be of conservation interest as well as identifying how humans may be currently altering a species' 'evolutionary landscape'.

  6. Apply Tinbergen's Four Questions to a conservation question. Applying our major conceptual framework can provide novel management questions and can help structure the scientific study of an endangered species. Share our conceptual framework with others! It works well for us and it can surely work well for mainstream conservation biologists.

  7. Develop and test predictive models of animal behavior that apply to endangered and non-endangered species. Predictive models will be useful when managers are faced with managing an endangered species for which little information is known. While not a substitute for detailed study of the endangered species, predictive models may help highlight behaviors that influence demographic parameters, such as infanticide or reproductive suppression.

  8. Talk with a wildlife manager. Wildlife and wildland managers may not be trained in animal behavior. By talking with them and understanding their objectives and needs, it may become obvious how and why knowledge of animal behavior may help them address those needs. It may also become obvious that behavior is not that important for a particular pressing conservation issue. Only by understanding the needs of the on-the-ground managers can we effectively integrate behavior into conservation biology.

  9. Comment on a conservation plan. The US Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as many state, local, and international agencies, make conservation plans available for public comment. Most of these species survival or habitat conservation plans were not written by behavioral biologists. Lack of behavioral knowledge should not be seen as a short-coming as much as it should be seen as an opportunity for us to share our knowledge and intellectual toolkit with others. Most of these plans are now easily accessible on agency websites.

  10. Teach conservation behavior. Conservation behavior can be integrated into traditional courses in behavior, ecology, and conservation biology. There are a number of excellent books and reviews that can form the subject of a seminar course. It is our fault if the next generation of conservation biologists does not think about behavior.

  11. Go to lunch with a population biologist. Populations decline because of the habitat selection and antipredator decisions made by individuals. We, as behavioral biologists, are obsessed with the fitness consequences of individual decisions. Population biologists care about the sum total of these effects. We are natural allies in the conservation community. Specifically, it is important for us to evaluate the assumptions population biologists typically make in population viability analyses, and to help them make more realistic ones.

  12. Go public. Whether it be talking with a reporter or chatting with your neighbor, take every opportunity that comes your way to share your work, its relevance to conservation, and the message that preservation of biodiversity benefits us all. If we only communicate with other scientists without making a concerted effort to reaching the lay public, we risk preaching to the choir. Continually cultivate and seek out ways to make your work accessible to non-scientists.

  13. Don't give up! Saving the Earth's dwindling biodiversity is an up-hill battle. But with innovative conservation strategies, some of which may include the novel application of our knowledge of animal behavior, we can make a difference.

** modified by the Animal Behavior Society Conservation Committee and based on the 10 Things a Behavioral Biologist Can Do to Help Conservation by Dan Blumstein
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