Top 40 science questions from US conservation policy makers

Apr 06, 2011
This view from the top of the Monitor Range, Eureka County, Nevada, shows a mosaic of vegetation types. Decision makers identified as a high priority research on how species-level and ecosystem-level responses to climate change may be affected by the current configuration of land cover and land use. Credit: UCSB

A wide-ranging group of experts has published a set of 40 key environmental questions to help align scientific research agendas with the needs of natural resource decision makers.

The cover story of the April issue of , written by 30 co-authors, contains the results of a process in which 35 participants solicited and synthesized questions about science relevant to management. Questions were submitted by 375 individuals who are involved with natural resource policy, management, or study.

The first author is Erica Fleishman, a researcher with UC Santa Barbara's Bren School of & Management and the John Muir Institute of the Environment at UC Davis. She and six colleagues –– David Blockstein, National Council for Science and the Environment, Washington, D.C.; John Hall, U.S. Department of Defense, Arlington, Va.; Michael Mascia, World Wildlife Fund; Murray Rudd, Environment Department, University of York, Britain; J. Michael Scott, U.S. Geological Survey; and William Sutherland, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Britain –– led the effort with a grant from the Kresge Foundation.

"The questions focus on assessing trade-offs among economic, social, and ecological issues," said Fleishman, adding that it is important to determine how to encourage communication among the generators of information about natural resources and the users of that information. "We created a mechanism where decision makers said to scientists, 'This is what we need to address society's priorities for natural resources.' " Fleishman described the endeavor as a means to facilitate collaboration, and more of a starting point than an ending.

The authors expect that the 40 questions, if answered, will increase effectiveness of policies related to conservation and management of natural resources. They are launching an effort to survey many more individuals about how they would prioritize the 40 questions.

"America's incredibly diverse natural resources are under increasing pressure, and policy makers often lack scientific information to make informed decisions about how to conserve them," said co-author Michael Mascia, social scientist with the World Wildlife Fund. "These 40 questions can help guide research priorities and ultimately give society the information needed to conserve the environment we all depend upon."

The questions, which highlight a wide array of environmental issues, include:

What quantity and quality of surface and groundwater will be necessary to sustain U.S. populations and ecosystem resilience during the next 100 years?

How do different strategies for growing and harvesting biomass or biofuel affect ecosystems and associated social and economic systems?

How do different agricultural practices and technologies affect water availability and quality?

How will changes in land use and climate affect the effectiveness of terrestrial and marine protected areas?

The authors present an optimistic view of how their work may promote change: "History provides numerous precedents for transforming crisis into opportunity if the crisis can function as an incentive to action. The Marshall Plan, for example, revitalized economies, diplomacy, and societal confidence in Western Europe following World War II. If changes in land use and climate catalyze greater engagement among researchers and decisionmakers, phenomena with the potential to negatively affect ecological and human systems may lead to similar successes in the conservation and sustainable management of natural resources."

Explore further: Hopes, fears, doubts surround Cuba's oil future

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Rivers buckle under pressure from climate, dams

Mar 21, 2011

Climate change is likely to intensify the alarming rate of degradation of the world’s rivers and wetlands unless water resources are better managed, according to a special issue of the international scientific journal ...

First Rockies natural gas report issued

Jun 16, 2006

The U.S. Wildlife Conservation Society has released the first-year results of a study on how natural gas development in the Rockies might affect wildlife.

Web site explains how climate change affects New York City

May 20, 2005

With over half the world's people now living in cities, it's important for us to better understand how climate changes might affect urban areas. Now, a new highly-researched Web site provides scientific answers to basic que ...

Managing ecosystems in a changing climate

Jan 26, 2010

Global warming may impair the ability of ecosystems to perform vital services—such as providing food, clean water and carbon sequestration—says the nation's largest organization of ecological scientists. In a statement ...

Seeing the hidden services of nature

Mar 02, 2010

Following an intense study of agricultural ecosystems near Montreal, a new tool that enables the simultaneous analysis and management of a wide range of ecological services has been developed by Ciara Raudsepp-Hearne of McGill ...

Recommended for you

Hopes, fears, doubts surround Cuba's oil future

17 hours ago

One of the most prolific oil and gas basins on the planet sits just off Cuba's northwest coast, and the thaw in relations with the United States is giving rise to hopes that Cuba can now get in on the action.

New challenges for ocean acidification research

Dec 19, 2014

Over the past decade, ocean acidification has received growing recognition not only in the scientific area. Decision-makers, stakeholders, and the general public are becoming increasingly aware of "the other carbon dioxide ...

Compromises lead to climate change deal

Dec 19, 2014

Earlier this month, delegates from the various states that make up the UN met in Lima, Peru, to agree on a framework for the Climate Change Conference that is scheduled to take place in Paris next year. For ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.