Designing Field Studies for Biodiversity Conservation

Designing Field Studies for Biodiversity Conservation
Peter Feinsinger
Island Press
Publication Date: 

paper, 212 p., $27.50

This is a book designed for people interested in the conservation of natural resources. Its main thrust is to demonstrate how scientific inquiry is essential to the development of conservation goals, effective management strategies and more academic pursuits, such as scientific thesis formulation. One particularly pleasing aspect of the text is that it accomplishes this objective without relying on confusing scientific jargon or complex ecosystem models.

Although Designing Field Studies for Biodiversity Conservation is based on and intended for Latin American audiences, it is equally useful to persons working in temperate climates. The process of asking the right question, designing an experiment to answer the question, collecting data and analyzing it are all basic steps to the scientific method, regardless of where you work in the world.

The author emphasizes the importance of understanding the natural history of a species before making decisions related to their conservation needs. He advises putting down the statistic book and getting your boots dirty, since understanding the natural history of a species and taking the point of view of that species will lead to better experimental design and interpretation.

One of the most important chapters in this book deals with how to ask the right questions. Which questions are most likely to be answerable and appropriate for the process of scientific inquiry? Are your questions too broad, are they answerable in the time you have to peruse them, will it cost too much to get the answers, and are the questions too complex? These are just some of the ideas covered under the section on formulating useful questions. It should be noted that the text is not designed to instruct readers on whatthe most important questions are, but rather on how to ask good questions. The issue of importance will vary, depending on the individual situation.

The author brings out the importance of realizing that systems are always in a process of change, and that this fact needs to be considered in conservation decisionmaking. The role humans have played in sculpting the landscape is another important consideration: Very few, if any, ecosystems have existed without human impact. In some cases, small impacts have enhanced natural patchiness in the landscape; in other cases large, severe impacts have masked the natural diversity and patchiness. Mr. Feinsinger emphasizes the importance of accepting human influence when interpreting data and incorporating these impacts into management designs.

— Jim Steffen, Ecologist, Chicago Botanic Garden