Integrating research using animal-borne telemetry with the needs of conservation management
McGowan, J, Beger, M, Lewison, RL, Harcourt, R, Campbell, H, Priest, M, Dwyer, RG, Lin, H, Lentini, P, Dudgeon, C, McMahon, C, Watts, M & Possingham, HP 2017, Journal of Applied Ecology, vol. 54, pp. 423-429.
Animal-borne telemetry, the tracking and recording of wildlife using radio or similar devices, has contributed extensively to studies of animal movement, demography and social structures. Although useful for collecting basic ecological data, the realities of the current conservation crisis mean that extensive telemetry studies are not always the most pragmatic, effective or viable use of time and resources. A framework is described here that allows researchers to determine whether and how animal-borne telemetry research can be applied for conservation purposes. The authors recommend that a value-of-information analysis be applied to assess whether or not animal telemetry studies are cost-efficient for informing conservation decision-making.
Animal-borne telemetry can contribute to wildlife conservation; however, data usually require a long time to gather and have only an indirect impact on conservation. Such data are also typically costly to obtain. Here, the authors present two questions for evaluating the relevance of animal telemetry data to conservation decision-making. The first is: Would the conservation initiative change if more data were available? Telemetry research can reveal major gaps in conservation practices, and can provide us with crucial information on issues such as which anthropogenic barriers are preventing animals from migrating, where invasive species are persisting and where important breeding and feeding areas are. For the implementation of many conservation measures, however, data on the movement of individuals is not necessary. The second question posed is: Is the conservation outcome produced as a result of the data worth the resources invested in data collection? An understanding of the ecology of a species is necessary for proper conservation management; however, in some instances, the resources invested in data collection can be more efficiently allocated toward direct action and better management.
Animal-borne telemetry is a valuable and useful tool for the study and conservation of wildlife; however, the practicalities of modern conservation and the limited funds available mean that pragmatic decisions need to be made about whether animal-borne telemetry research is the best use of conservation resources. To evaluate the value of animal-borne telemetry data for achieving conservation outcomes, the authors recommend using a value-of-information analysis to quantify the return-on-investment of telemetry studies.
Summarised by Alexander Hendry
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