Can Applying Psychology Encourage Private Land Conservation?

Anyone keeping up with policies in the United States since about 2016 knows that national protected areas are decreasing in size. At the extreme, Bears Ears monument in Utah lost all but 15% of its area in December 2017. What if conservationists could shift their focus to rely less on the ups and downs of the national government and other large, changeable institutions?

Individuals have been using their power as landowners to make conservation decisions on their land as private conservation areas, or PCAs. In their paper, “The Psychological Appeal of Owning Private Land for Conservation,” which was recently published in Conservation Biology, Jennifer Gooden and Richard Grenyer determine from interviews with landowners that allowing them some independence, providing a way to measure success and creating social connections may encourage them to create and maintain PCAs. These traits of a project align with a psychological model and increase the landowner’s wellbeing.

 september-in-the-forest

“Enchanted forest in autumn” by Larisa Koshkina, licensed under CC0 Public Domain

 

The Psychology

The authors interviewed landowners, developing and refining definitions for landowner motivations as they went. Their results suggested that landowners were encouraged by a sense of autonomy, efficacy, and social connection. Interestingly, after they gathered this data, they found that these motivations aligned with a framework called project analytic theory, which connects personal projects with a person’s intrinsic motivations and goals. The aspects of this model are structure, efficacy, community, meaning, and stress, and are based on their effect on personal wellbeing. The first three of these agree with the findings of this study, and the fourth, Gooden and Grenyer say, is supplied by the context of the biodiversity crisis. That leaves stress. While many of the landowners interviewed reported high stress levels along with high satisfaction with the project, the researchers  concluded that the other benefits of the project, combined with stress-relieving properties of connection to nature, outweighed the stress of managing the land.

Autonomy

NGOs “blow a lot of hot air,” according to one landowner. Similarly, governments are perceived as inefficient. Individuals may decide to buy land instead of donating money just so they can see and directly affect their impact. They can also experiment with management practices. Interestingly, strategies in which organizations use monetary incentives to encourage conservation can reduce the perceived independence of the landowners. Gooden and Grenyer suggest that these incentives should be carried out carefully. They should affirm existing motivations, rather than existing as the only incentive for a landowner to invest in conservation. Since monetary incentives do increase participation in private conservation, this method should not be discounted entirely.

Efficacy

The autonomy of owning land is in part an intrinsic aspect of owning a PCA; measuring the effects of a project, however, requires additional effort. Landowners like to know that what they are doing makes a difference, and the best way to do this is to measure it. Participating in a program may provide a framework for measurement. Some organizations already provide descriptions of “best practices.”

Social Connection

In addition, some owners say they benefit from the social interactions that come with managing their property. In addition to associating with those on the team managing the property, landowners benefit from connections to other landowners. They also connect to conservation organizations and universities for support. If conflicts arise around management of property, however, this can increase the stress levels of the owner.

Relevance for Programs

What can conservation organizations or governments do to encourage private conservation? The answer is rooted in the three motivations. Programs should allow as much autonomy as possible, while still being effective. One way to encourage autonomy that doesn’t reduce the large-scale effectiveness of the program is to suggest that the landowner can have some control over the fate of the property that would be otherwise out of their hands, such as by preserving the land from development through a conservation easement. The program should also include ways to measure efficacy; for example, standards and best practices. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it should connect landowners to one another through local and/or global networks.

If the conservation world is to increasingly rely on them, it is time to learn from landowners how best to work with them.

 

Works Cited

  1. Gooden, Jennifer, and Richard Grenyer. “The Psychological Appeal of Owning Private Land for Conservation.” Conservation Biology, 28 Aug. 2018, Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1111/cobi.13215. https://doi-org.ezproxy.rice.edu/10.1111/cobi.13215

 

  1. Gonzales, Richard, et al. “Trump Orders Largest National Monument Reduction In U.S. History.” NPR, National Public Radio, 4 Dec. 2017. www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/12/04/567803476/trump-dramatically-shrinks-2-utah-national-monuments

 

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Captive Pandas: Are We Raising Them to be Picky-Eaters?

5402340884_e472d9f447Panda” by Kevin Dooley is licensed under CC 2.0

Thanks to aggressive conservation efforts by China and international groups, the population of giant pandas is beginning to stabilize, and the giant panda is no longer considered an endangered species. Despite the good news, captive breeding and release of captive-bred pandas are still needed to aid the giant panda in its continued recovery. While captive breeding programs have been quite successful, the first release of pandas born and reared in captivity, however, was far from a complete success. Three of the eight pandas died within one year of their release into the wild. The high mortality rate indicates much remains to be done to increase the post-release survival rate of captive-bred pandas.

For captive-bred animals to survive successfully in the wild, captive-release programs need to identify which skills necessary for survival may be impaired in a captive environment and work to ensure captive-reared animals develop these skills in captivity. While the causes of death for the released pandas are not known, the poor body condition of some of them suggests undernourishment could have been a contributing factor. Their undernourishment points to potentially compromised feeding behavior of pandas in captivity and the need for release programs to develop and nurture their feeding skills.

A study published in the journal Animal Conservation by Dr. Swaisgood et al. of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research looked at whether panda feeding behavior is negatively impacted by captivity. The researchers compared the feeding behaviors of giant pandas bred and raised in captivity with those of giant pandas born in the wild and brought into captivity to determine if there were differences. They found that feeding behaviors of the captive-bred pandas differed from those born in the wild in subtle ways that could make it more difficult for captive-bred pandas to survive in the wild.

The researchers also found that captive-bred pandas spent more time and energy eating less nutritious parts of the bamboo than the wild-born pandas. They determined captive-bred pandas spent most of their time eating the large, hollow stem part of the bamboo, whereas the wild pandas preferred the leaves. The captive-bred pandas also spent less time eating both the bamboo leaves and the smaller bamboo stems, whereas wild-born pandas preferred bamboo leaves over stems and preferred smaller stems over larger stems. These differences in feeding behavior can be very important to the health of pandas in the wild because leaves are more nutritious than the stems, and smaller stems are more nutritious than larger ones. Additionally, they found the captive-reared pandas spent less time chewing and biting on the more nutritious bamboo leaves than the wild-born pandas. Because of this, captive-bred giant pandas may be less efficient in taking in energy and nutrition than their wild-born counterparts.

Giant pandas are energy-limited, meaning they are limited by their energy intake despite spending a lot of their time foraging. Because they are energy-limited, even a marginal decrease in their feeding efficiency can be detrimental to their survival. This raises concerns that the compromised feeding behaviors observed in captive-bred pandas may negatively impact their ability to survive in the wild. More research, however, is needed to demonstrate that this is indeed the case. It is also unknown why captive-bred pandas prefer larger food pieces over smaller, more nutritious parts. Why is it they, like humans, seem to prefer the super-size but less healthy order? How can we foster better eating habits in captive-bred pandas?

Studies like this to help us understand panda feeding behavior are the first steps toward preparing captive-bred pandas for release into the wild. Panda breeding programs owe much of their current success to intensive efforts to understand panda breeding behavior. We need to apply similar strategies and efforts to understand panda behavior in the wild and use that knowledge to create an environment that will develop and nurture the necessary behavior in captive-bred pandas. This will help us address the challenges of successfully releasing captive-bred pandas into the wild so that we can ensure sustained recovery and expansion of the giant panda population.

Reference:

Swaisgood, R. R., Martin‐Wintle, M. S., Owen, M. A., Zhou, X., & Zhang, H. (2018). Developmental stability of foraging behavior: evaluating suitability of captive giant pandas for translocation. Animal Conservation. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1111/acv.12418

 

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Species adrift: What do European bison and a rare flower have in common?

Twelve. There are twelve individuals to whom all European bison (Bison bonasus) alive today trace their lineage (Slatis 1960). After the species was hunted to near extinction in the late 19th century, the European bison, historically abundant across Europe, is now made up of 3,200 individuals between the wild and captivity. The subsequent population bottleneck has led to the fragile persistence of the species at rates far from the vastness of their ancestral counts (Olech 2008).

Simply put, when a population undergoes a traumatic event resulting in the loss of many individuals, the gene pool that propagates from the survivors has undergone a bottleneck. The bison are only one such example of this effect. In a study by Lee, Kim, and Kim, published this past June in the journal Ecology and Evolution, the Hallym University researchers concluded that bottlenecks in the evolutionary history of a species can, and will, lead to widespread genetic similarities within isolated populations, such as those observed in the rare Plagiorhegma dubium plant. Such likenesses are a phenomenon caused by genetic drift, a process that explains how some genotypes become more prominent than others within a given population.  

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A close relative of Plagiorhegma dubium, Jeffersonia diphylla, also known as “Twinleaf,” can be found across Eastern North America. Picture: Gould, Anita. “Twinleaf”, Taken 18 Apr 2009

P. dubium is a prime example of a species suffering from genetic drift, brought about in two key steps: an initial population bottleneck, followed by a lack of reasonable gene flow. The combination of these factors made the various populations, though physically near one another, genetically distinct across microhabitats.

Researchers didn’t initially know there was a bottleneck in P. dubium, but observed unexpectedly low genetic variation between individuals within a given population. This cannot be chalked up to inbreeding, as we’ll discuss later, rather the authors point to an historic bottleneck as the source.

Likewise, limited inter-population gene flow contributed heavily to the observed genetic drift in P. dubium plants. In the study, Lee, Kim, and Kim identified ten populations of P. dubium across the Korean peninsula, each varying in genetic distinctness from the other nine. If individuals of a species were unable to interact between populations, for cross-breeding or otherwise, the populations were considered ‘isolated’ and prone to drift, on the sole basis of founder effect.

Founder effect, along with a population bottleneck, acts as a prime cause for genetic drift. A founder effect occurs when individuals of a species are isolated from other populations, leaving any future progeny to come from the genes present in the founding members. This presents a limit on the variation available to the group, outside of any mutations that may arise.

Ultimately, this is what happened to the European bison and the existing population continues to struggle. Low genetic diversity will always make them prone to inbreeding, opening the doors for ruinous dormant traits and other genetic concerns.

P. dubium, however, has not yet reached that fate. Since there are multiple populations, albeit in low numbers and each one genetically distinct, it would not be difficult to simply cross-breed members of different populations and introduce the new progeny into each of the groups. By cross-breeding the populations, we would reintroduce genetic diversity where it was lost, a model that would suit any endangered species with multiple sub-populations.

The way they are now, the lack of genetic diversity across P. dubium populations makes each group more rare and more threatened. Each tiny population ritually breeds out any adaptive power they may have, as they get closer and closer to uniformity with each new progeny.

In this way, the study confirms that, by identifying population bottlenecks and other spatial discrepancies in genetic variation, we can designate species most at risk of extinction. Understandably, if we know that a population suffered a significant bottleneck in the past, conservationists can make sure to protect species’ habitats, counteracting an inherently limited ability to adapt to any future changes in the environment. If we can protect the ones most at risk, the rest of our world should fall in line.

 

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Citations:

Gould, A. (2009). Twinleaf [Photograph]. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/ anitagould/3597092106/in/photolist-T4ZYUH-bsiVtC-6tS3aq-4BqwTX-Gz2XEN-6gu3Mg-4BuP8d-4BuPcU-JNYHo-4BqwQB-bRr15t-6kWkVJ-e8AAys-Tx9yid-263rhhL-6gq8Ur-9uywm4-SxVZvd-CJURLT-DfbYiG-eeCuUM-D8Pn88-FX4bb3-tbapuM-bFdPnZ-sTy35S-FrHhSN-TCeMiY-TCeKY3-TNz67Q-ULQEAM

Lee, S.-R., Kim, B.-Y., & Kim, Y.-D. (2018). Genetic diagnosis of a rare myrmecochorous species, Plagiorhegma dubium (Berberidaceae): Historical genetic bottlenecks and strong spatial structures among populations. Ecology and Evolution, 0(0). https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.4362

Olech, W. (IUCN SSC Bison Specialist Group) (2008). Bison bonasus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008: e.T2814A9484719. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2008.RLTS.T2814A9484719.en.

Slatis, H. M. (1960). An Analysis of Inbreeding in the European Bison. Genetics, 45(3), 275–287.

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There’s no place like home – or is there? How riparian reserves are helping tropical birds thrive

Agriculture is a major cause of species loss in the tropics. One of the most profitable and prolific tropical crops is oil palm. The fruit of this plant is used to make palm oil, which is found in everything from the food we eat to the shampoo we use to wash our hair. Therefore, demand is high, creating an incentive to replace forests with plantations. These agricultural lands support fewer bird species than forests. Just like the Wicked Witch of the West, oil palm plantations have swept bird habitats up into a tornado of destruction.

So, are tropical bird species doomed to extinction from habitat loss?  Is it time to stop purchasing and toss out all of your products containing palm oil? Or, can we click our heels three times and help the birds return home like Dorothy?

According to an article published in the Journal of Applied Ecology by Dr. Mitchell of the University of Kent and his colleagues, it is possible for oil palm plantations and bird communities to coexist, but only if riparian reserves of a certain size and quality are present. These reserves are sections of protected forest along waterways within oil palm plantations. They must be large enough and have sufficient forest cover to support a diverse array of bird species. Just as Dorothy followed the Yellow Brick Road into the land of Oz, many bird species are traveling along “the riparian reserve road” into these remnant forests within oil palm plantations.

While the presence of riparian reserves within plantations is often mandated by law for flood prevention throughout the tropics, the size and amount of tree cover within the reserves is not regulated. In an effort to determine what size and quality of riparian reserve would support diverse bird communities, the authors surveyed 28 different sites in both oil palm plantations and forest habitats in Sabah, Malaysia. They discovered that the reserves had to be at least 40 meters wide on each bank of the waterway to support similar bird diversity to that found in forests. However, the quality of the reserve was the strongest predictor of the number of species counted for both birds that are threatened with extinction and those that rely on forest habitats. Reserve quality was determined by the amount of forest trees present within the plantation. The more forest trees that were observed, the higher the quality of the reserve. Therefore, riparian reserves that were wider and had more trees supported more bird species.

These findings are significant because they give specific and measurable parameters and guidelines for the type of riparian reserve that will support more bird species within oil palm plantations. So, are riparian reserves our magical ruby slippers? According to one of the authors, Dr. David Edwards of the University of Sheffield, they are. He stated that “riparian reserves save a surprising amount of biodiversity within oil palm, suggesting that they are a valuable investment for conservation.”

While this study is unique because it presents specific guidelines for riparian reserve size and quality, it bases these parameters on the presence of only one group of animals, birds. But, habitat loss due to agricultural expansion is not only a problem for tropical birds. It is a threat for all species living in the tropics. More research is certainly needed on the size and quality of riparian reserve required for increased species diversity of other groups like mammals, amphibians and insects.

However, the findings of this paper are still informative and present hope for birds living in the areas were oil palm plantations are prevalent. If large reserves with more forest trees are protected along rivers in these plantations, then the birds will return. As it turns out, Dorothy might have been wrong. There is a place like home.

Reference:

Mitchell, Simon L. et al., 2018. Riparian reserves help protect forest bird communities in oil palm dominated landscapes, Journal of Applied Ecology, Vol 55: 2744-2755. https://doi-org.ezproxy.rice.edu/10.1111/1365-2664.13233

 

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Turn Off the Lights: Illuminating the Effects of Light Pollution on Ecosystems

A recent study has revealed something alarming: artificial light pollution may be more damaging to the environment than previously thought, affecting all trophic levels within a community. Published in Journal of Applied Ecology from the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter (Cornwall, UK), the study’s findings indicate global implications for ecosystems that exist near to human development. By looking at the effects of artificial nighttime light on producer growth and herbivore populations in a simple ecosystem, Bennie et al. measured the light’s bottom-up, top-down, and indeterminate effects, or those operating independent of food chain dynamics. The study’s results have ramifications for conservation in natural and semi-natural ecosystems, namely that efforts made should attempt to minimize disruption by reducing the light pollution that is currently ubiquitous.

The authors argue that natural and semi-natural ecosystems exposed to human-made light, like roadside berms and hedgerows, have value that is threatened by this pollution. These small, man-made ecosystems are often neglected in conservation efforts. Bennie et al. state that that “continuous artificial light at night equivalent to that recorded in roadside vegetation under street lighting, can cause population-level effects on plants and invertebrates, that these effects can be mediated by both top-down and bottom-up processes, and that the nature of these effects depends on the lighting technology employed” (Bennie et al., 2018). Essentially, while some nighttime lighting is less damaging than others, all forms affect producer and invertebrate populations that are critical to ecosystem function and can impact predator-prey dynamics, resource availability, and animal behavior. To combat these effects, the authors suggest that cities utilize LED lights to better control the emitted wavelength and produce less ecosystem disruption.

To arrive at these conclusions, the researchers studied the influence of different types of light pollution on a grassland ecosystem’s producers, herbivores, and predation dynamics. They found that both artificial nighttime light and herbivore presence significantly affected the number of flower heads generated by L. pedunculatus, the system’s key producer; as the base of the grassland ‘food web’ L. pedunculatus provides other species energy, shelter, or sustenance for their prey. Amber light resulted in about 50% fewer flower heads, white light about 30% fewer, and herbivore presence about 45% fewer than the plant grown alone in natural conditions (Bennie et al., 2018). When both herbivores and predators were present, the interactions of these dynamics with artificial light produced a more serious effect.

These interactions between light and interspecies relationships were also evident in D. reticulatum, the gray field slug, a herbivore acting on L. pedunculatus. Slug abundance decreased 55% under a combination of white nighttime light and predation, while predation or white nighttime light alone had no significant effects. This illustrates the complex ways in which light pollution can interact with dynamics and relationships within an ecosystem: assumptions can never be made automatically about how species are affected by the light we produce.

Artificial light also impacted populations of the pea aphid, A. pisum, another herbivore consuming L. pedunculatus. These aphids are an important food source for larger predators, other insects that are in turn consumed by birds, mammals, and reptiles. Aphids were 17% less abundant under amber nighttime light but unaffected by white light, predator presence, or interactions between the factors (Bennie et al., 2018). As such, swapping out the amber lights pervasive in street lamps for white would eliminate light pollution’s effect on this species.

To be sure, the authors are not suggesting that light pollution can or should be completely eliminated. Nighttime lighting is critical for the function of cities and safe driving conditions across the world. The authors simply suggest that when lighting is needed for safety or public amenity, its timing, location, and brightness should be limited to what is absolutely necessary. Secondly, while light pollution is often ignored by conservation efforts, the importance of other types of pollution these efforts combat can not be negated or reduced. Chemical, plastic, and air pollution all unmistakably affect ecosystem health, and conservationists should attempt to reduce light pollution in conjunction with these other man-made effects.

Overall, to decrease ecological damage, the authors suggest planning outdoor lighting according to a few basic principles of lighting design. If possible, avoid illumination around natural and semi-natural environments, taking care around species more susceptible to artificial light and assuming that ecosystem effects are much wider than simply known impacts on specific species. As mentioned above, limit light where possible, and control the wavelengths emitted in different situations. This could mean switching the amber lights along roads for white LEDs, limiting lights’ ‘on’ time with motion sensors or timers, or even just households making an effort to turn off their lights at night. Buildings could be designed with reduction of light emittance as a priority, providing the added benefit of reduced energy usage, another important method of conservation. Through these few adjustments, we can minimize the ecological impact of our light pollution and reduce systemic damage to ecosystems.

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An Unorthodox Approach: How Lampreys can help Conserve Great Lakes Fish

Who knew that the best way to save native fish species might be by letting lamprey coexist with them? Although this sounds counterintuitive, the idea has been proposed for the Great Lakes region by researchers. Dams are currently situated at many waterways to limit the damage of invasive lamprey, but they also block tributary access to the habitats of desirable fish species. Tributaries are smaller streams that flow into lakes or larger rivers. These fish play an important role in maintaining the balance of their ecosystems by keeping organisms below them in check and providing a food source to those in upper trophic levels. Cutting off access to lampreys would also irreversibly harm the fish that are the focus of conservation efforts.

Lamprey

“Sea Lamprey” by Cory Genovese is licensed under CC 2.0

Instead of traditional barriers such as dams, researchers are suggesting alternative solutions that can minimize lamprey expansion while also reducing the harm to native species. The lampreys have no natural enemies in the Great Lakes and prey on many fish species. Unchecked, this can lead to the extinction of these native species. A study published in the journal Conservation Biology by Dr. Milt of the University of Wisconsin proposed several solutions. One solution that Milt proposed was replacing dams with fish friendly passages. The researchers tried to maximize the benefits to the desired species while also minimizing the costs of removing the barriers. Barriers that provided little benefit to increase desirable access, were expensive to replace, or resulted in a large increase to lamprey access were not considered. Lampricides were considered as a last resort.

Potential habitat expansions through barrier removal were examined through the possible cost to restore a portion of the access to the tributaries. Dr. Milt found that removing barriers offered diminishing returns as habitat access increased. For example, each species can access 115 km2 of the waterways under current conditions. Tripling the area available would cost $14 million. However, increasing the available habitat to 550 km2 drove costs up to $80 million. To think that an extra 100 km2 could drive up prices that much!

Another finding brought up was the variance in current habitat area and relative gains from removing barriers for different species. At one extreme, mooneye started out with 19 km2 of available habitat and can add 96 km2 to its range with $15 million in renovations. On the other end, yellow perch would need $65 million to increase its range to a similar level. Now that’s a big difference! This shows that the preexisting ranges of certain fish are more restricted by dams and culverts than their counterparts.

Besides removing dams, which have varying degrees of success between species, lampricide use was also explored. Current use by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission has seen lamprey populations in most areas decline over 85%. Although the lamprey population cannot be completely eradicated, the lampricides have been a positive boost in limiting their effects on other species.

A counter point noted is that this plan only helps a subset of the species of interest. The “barrier-centric strategy is limited by the money” that can be spent said Dr. Milt, researcher at the University of Wisconsin and lead author of the study. Some fishes will benefit over others due to spatial range differences. A suggestion for further research could be to try and find a solution benefiting more of the 37 local species. This could occur through increased lampricide use. Milt said that “lampricide could offset the potential effects” of letting in lampreys. Lampricide use should be monitored to prevent lampreys from adapting and building immunity to the poison. It seems there must be a balance of barrier removal and lampricide to limit lamprey expansion.

By using a combination of calculated dam removals and lampricide, lamprey populations can be controlled while ensuring the wellbeing of desired fish species. Each fish plays a role in maintaining the balance of their ecosystem through providing a food source to carnivores and helping control the population of organisms they prey on. These fish are an invaluable part of their ecosystem and have shown they need to be conserved.

 

 

Works Cited

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Can Crowdfunding Team Work Make the Biodiversity Conservation Dream Work?

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Coast of Iceland. Photo By Author 2018.

Technology is rapidly changing. With the creation of the Internet new methods of communicating and connecting people across the world like Facebook and Twitter have evolved. These platforms have revolutionized how information is spread around the world. Could online crowdfunding be the next revolution? Online crowdfunding is the raising of funds through an online platform that allows users to create a cause and allows individuals to go online and donate to that cause. While not a new technology, online crowdfunding has moved into the domain of fundraising for causes like biodiversity conservation. Could this novel use of online crowdfunding be the next technological revolution that changes the way people connect with each other and tackle the worlds’ issues?

The first step in answering this question is to better understand the use of crowdfunding for biodiversity conservation. This is exactly what Gallo-Cajiao and colleagues from the University of Queensland did in their 2018 paper “Crowdfunding Biodiversity Conservation” published in the Journal Conservation Biology. By searching all major crowdfunding platforms for biodiversity related projects and analyzing these projects Gallo-Cajiao and colleagues discovered some fascinating trends that illustrate the potential of crowdfunding.

The first notable trend Gallo-Cajiao and colleagues found was that crowdfunding is connecting people around the world allowing them to take action. Most of the project campaigns listed on the crowdfunding sites were created by individuals in developed countries. However, the projects themselves were planned to address conservation issues in 80 different countries that varied in their development. Furthermore, 31% of the projects were created for an issue of a country that was not the country of the project organizer. This clearly shows the power of crowdfunding to connect people around the world by allowing money to move between different countries. Therefore, crowdfunding makes funds for conservation more accessible to developing countries, where the need for biodiversity conservation might be great but the funds scare.

The second main trend was that freelancers organized 26% of the projects analyzed. This speaks volumes to the accessibility of crowdfunding. You do not have to be a specialist working for the government, a non-governmental organization (NGO) or a university to champion biodiversity conservation. Crowdfunding further increases the power of the individual because the authority of the crowdfunding site validates the individual’s cause and request for money. This makes it so smaller NGOs and individuals are no longer beholden to larger grants and “conservation finance” (Gallo-Cajiao et al., 2018). This allows for more ideas to have the potential to reach actualization and the diversity of ideas will be key in solving the biodiversity crisis we are currently facing.

While it is true that the numeric amount of money raised by crowdfunding is quite small compared to the amount of funds provided by governments and international organizations, the value of crowdfunding is in its ability to fill the gaps in traditional funding sources. Crowdfunding is by no means a replacement for traditional fundraising mechanisms, but rather a supplemental fundraising mechanism. Additionally, some may argue that crowdfunding lacks accountability and may question the success of projects that get funded. However, as Gallo-Cajiao and colleagues argue we shouldn’t write off online crowdfunding until we have evaluated the success rate of funded projects.

Crowdfunding’s true potential to revolutionize the world of biodiversity conservation comes from its empowerment of the individual. It allows individuals to pool their money together to make an impact, similar to how all of the individual pebbles on the Icelandic coast pictured above collected together to make a pebbly shoreline. Local communities could come up with an idea and then with the aid of crowdfunding implement it. This empowerment makes them more invested in their community and more likely to continue to take action creating a positive cycle. With these benefits it is easy to see how crowdfunding as a form of biodiversity conservation fundraising has great potential. However, we should go forward cautiously as the accountability and success of funded campaigns still needs to be assessed. As Gallo-Cajiao says “Crowdfunding has been used to advance biodiversity conservation goals around the world, now it’s time conservation biologists dedicate research efforts to better understand this very phenomenon.”

Citation:

Gallo-Cajiao, Eduardo, et al. “Crowdfunding Biodiversity Conservation.” Conservation Biology, June 2018, doi:10.1111/cobi.13144.

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