A3 Wolmar

Armageddon scribes: only transdisciplinarity will rescue conservation biology from irrelevancy


Corey Bradshaw


I argue that our discipline is caught in a rut of irrelevancy on the grander scale. Much of our research is focussed on refining the basics of what we essentially already know well. While there will always be processes to understand, species to describe, and relationships to measure, our discipline can no longer afford to avoid the biggest sustainability issues, including inter alia increasing agricultural production without further destruction of ecosystem integrity, low-impact energy provision for electricity and fuels, human overpopulation and how to reduce it ethically and fairly, and massive ecosystem restoration at meaningful scales. While we argue about the best ways to conserve species, we are still losing our forests, coral reefs, climate regulation, and food-production efficiency with increasing speed. Most of us become comfortable with what we know, and therefore spend most of our time refining our area of expertise. Instead, more of us should jump out of our comfort zones and learn some physics, engineering, climatology, economics, and political science to expand our limited world view. This means that we must do more than just 'engage with stakeholders' post-publication; instead, we need to generate and test hypotheses that explicitly attempt to solve complex problems that transcend mere biological processes. Multidisciplinary teams can assist, but more relevant progress will require biologists themselves to adopt data, approaches, and communication strategies from other fields (many of them not residing within the sciences). Including policy implementers from the outset will potentially increase the probability of uptake in government and industry provided we examine the questions they deem most pertinent. This approach will probably require compromises, but tangible changes in policy arising from dedicated research will be more easily measured and demonstrated following this approach. With a little more effort, I think conservation biologists would be far more relevant and successful in turning some of the threatening unsustainability tide back towards more acceptable outcomes.