SREL Reprint #1986





Combining science and policy in conservation biology

Gary K. Meffe and Stephen Viederman

As conservation biologists and wildlife biologists continue to assess their
commonality and divergence, here is a view of how we meld our needs to
influence policy decisions.

Conservation biology is a new and developing science, a product of the late 1970's and early 1980's when ecologists first gathered in mutual recognition of an impending biological diversity (biodiversity) crisis. The leading journal in the field, Conservation Biology, only began in 1987, and the first 2 textbooks on the topic appeared in the fall of 1993 (Primack 1993) and the spring of 1994 (Meffe and Carroll 1994). Thus, the field is in a rudimentary stage, we are still learning some very basic things, and conservation science is rapidly evolving. Conservation biology began with a major emphasis on genetics, biogeography, and other ecological and evolutionary issues, but the field is now maturing to encompass other concerns beyond ecology, including economic, legal, and political issues. Because it is so young, the proper balance between basic and applied science, between curiosity-driven and issue-driven research, is still being sought.
Many scientists in the field of conservation biology are only now beginning to understand how policy decisions are an important influence on natural systems. We can no longer simply do the science and hope that someone else uses the information to make good laws that protect species and their ecosystems. We now understand that much of what we do in conservation biology is essentially worthless if it is not translated into effective policy. All the theories, all the ecological and genetic models, and all the data amassed will have little effect if we do not influence policy and human behavior toward protection of biological diversity. We believe that the major advances in conservation action will take place not in scientific laboratories or field research sites, but in the political and economic arenas, because present limitations in conserving biodiversity do not typically occur through lack of knowledge, but rather poor implementation-the policy arena. Thus, the science of conservation biology is necessary, but not in itself sufficient, to stem species extinction and ecosystem degradation. The challenge is for science to inform policy to change individual and institutional behavior.


SREL Reprint #1986

Meffe, G.K. and S. Viederman. 1995. Combining science and policy in conservation biology. Wildlife Society Bulletin 23:327-332.

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