The 5 pet peeves of a conservation scientist

What do conservation scientists do anyway? Don’t they just sit around hugging trees and giving pandas back rubs? As an undergraduate I swore off conservation because I was so annoyed at the amount of money going into getting one panda to have one baby. Yet here I am doing conservation themed phd… What happened?

I found out that, actually, many conservation scientists were just as annoyed as myself with the amount of money being thrown out the window. This brought about a new era of…  cost effectiveness! Such an interesting research topic, don’t you agree? You probably don’t, but humour me anyway. I want to describe the 5 pet peeves of conservation scientists like myself. Be warned, some panda bashing may take place…


Infuriatingly cute animals get all the conservation money thrown at them…  I hate them. Why doesn’t anyone love soils?



Why oh why do people come up with conservation plans without considering how much they are going to cost? I thought this was a myth, but after a few conferences I’ve realised it is not. Oh the horror! Way too many people think it is “dirty” to think about the finances of conservation. As if putting a price on saving a species somehow negated other species intrinsic right to be saved. It doesn’t! It makes things more feasible by considering how much money is available and what can be achieved within a given budget. Simple.

By not having a budget, you’re actually shooting yourself in the foot.


People who poo-poo triage

Triage comes from the french word meaning “sorting” or “to sort”. Triage was used to sort the wounded into groups to figure out who needed most urgent medical attention and who was beyond saving and should be made comfortable. The concept is also relevant to conservation science to identify species or ecosystems in need of most urgent TLC. Though it is not the be all and end all of conservation, it remains a useful method for prioritizing conservation projects objectively based on feasibility and cost. No one gains from flogging a dead horse.


You can monitor a species to extinction. There will always be uncertainty! The time to act is now! Now get off your computer and go make your local politician stop the erosion of your favourite soil! (fyi- if your favourite soil is not a podzol, we cannot be friends). Go on then!


Actually, on second though, podzols are very acidic and often don’t support much species diversity. Maybe lobby your politician to stop erosion of cambisols? Though podzols do store a lot of carbon. Your call. Species diversity or carbon?


You can’t compare apples and oranges, so stop trying to compare them by using an index! If you don’t believe me, I will illustrate my point using a made up “yumminess index”. Imagine the following:

yumminess = (number of apples in fruit salad + 2 x number of oranges) / volume of salad bowl

It’s pretty nonsensical agreed? Some would argue though that it gives you an estimate of the yumminess of fruit per salad bowl volume unit. The brilliance of this index lies in the fact that it even incorporates our preference for oranges over apples and can compare bowls of different sizes! This makes total mathematical sense! 2 is a completely objective number to choose right? Bowl size affects yumminess doesn’t it?

How about scoring systems? Aren’t they completely objective?

Enough grumpiness for today

Indeed. Now go frown at a panda and kiss a soil!


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