How experimental biology and ecology can support evidence-based decision-making in conservation: avoiding pitfalls and enabling application

Steven J. Cooke, Kim Birnie-Gauvin, Robert J. Lennox, Jessica J. Taylor, Trina Rytwinski, Jodie L. Rummer, Craig E. Franklin, Joseph R. Bennett, Neal R. Haddaway

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Policy development and management decisions should be based upon the best available evidence. In recent years, approaches to evidence synthesis, originating in the medical realm (such as systematic reviews), have been applied to conservation to promote evidence-based conservation and environmental management. Systematic reviews involve a critical appraisal of evidence, but studies that lack the necessary rigour (e.g. experimental, technical and analytical aspects) to justify their conclusions are typically excluded from systematic reviews or down-weighted in terms of their influence. One of the strengths of conservation physiology is the reliance on experimental approaches that help to more clearly establish cause-and-effect relationships. Indeed, experimental biology and ecology have much to offer in terms of building the evidence base that is needed to inform policy and management options related to pressing issues such as enacting endangered species recovery plans or evaluating the effectiveness of conservation interventions. Here, we identify a number of pitfalls that can prevent experimental findings from being relevant to conservation or would lead to their exclusion or down-weighting during critical appraisal in a systematic review. We conclude that conservation physiology is well positioned to support evidence-based conservation, provided that experimental designs are robust and that conservation physiologists understand the nuances associated with informing decision-making processes so that they can be more relevant.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbercox043
JournalConservation Physiology
Issue number1
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

© The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press and the Society for Experimental Biology. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (
by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


  • Evidence
  • Experimental biology and ecology
  • Relevance
  • Reliability


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