We assess progress toward the protection of 50% of the terrestrial biosphere to address the species-extinction crisis and conserve a global ecological heritage for future generations. Using a map of Earth’s 846 terrestrial ecoregions, we show that 98 ecoregions (12%) exceed Half Protected; 313 ecoregions (37%) fall short of Half Protected but have sufficient unaltered habitat remaining to reach the target; and 207 ecoregions (24%) are in peril, where an average of only 4% of natural habitat remains. We propose a Global Deal for Nature-a companion to the Paris Climate Deal-to promote increased habitat protection and restoration, national- and ecoregion-scale conservation strategies, and the empowerment of indigenous peoples to protect their sovereign lands. The goal of such an accord would be to protect half the terrestrial realm by 2050 to halt the extinction crisis while sustaining human livelihoods.
For the first time in the Anthropocene, the global demographic and economic trends that have resulted in unprecedented destruction of the environment are now creating the necessary conditions for a possible renaissance of nature. Drawing reasonable inferences from current patterns, we can predict that 100 years from now, the Earth could be inhabited by between 6 and 8 billion people, with very few remaining in extreme poverty, most living in towns and cities, and nearly all participating in a technologically driven, interconnected market economy. Building on the scholarship of others in demography, economics, sociology, and conservation biology, here, we articulate a theory of social-environmental change that describes the simultaneous and interacting effects of urban lifestyles on fertility, poverty alleviation, and ideation. By recognizing the shifting dynamics of these macrodrivers, conservation practice has the potential to transform itself from a discipline managing declines (“bottleneck”) to a transformative movement of recovery (“breakthrough”).
Designated large-scale marine protected areas (LSMPAs, 100,000 or more square kilometers) constitute over two-thirds of the approximately 6.6% of the ocean and approximately 14.5% of the exclusive economic zones within marine protected areas. Although LSMPAs have received support among scientists and conservation bodies for wilderness protection, regional ecological connectivity, and improving resilience to climate change, there are also concerns. We identified 10 common criticisms of LSMPAs along three themes: (1) placement, governance, and management; (2) political expediency; and (3) social-ecological value and cost. Through critical evaluation of scientific evidence, we discuss the value, achievements, challenges, and potential of LSMPAs in these arenas. We conclude that although some criticisms are valid and need addressing, none pertain exclusively to LSMPAs, and many involve challenges ubiquitous in management. We argue that LSMPAs are an important component of a diversified management portfolio that tempers potential losses, hedges against uncertainty, and enhances the probability of achieving sustainably managed oceans.
Efforts to conserve biodiversity comprise a patchwork of international goals, national-level plans, and local interventions that, overall, are failing. We discuss the potential utility of applying the mitigation hierarchy, widely used during economic development activities, to all negative human impacts on biodiversity. Evaluating all biodiversity losses and gains through the mitigation hierarchy could help prioritize consideration of conservation goals and drive the empirical evaluation of conservation investments through the explicit consideration of counterfactual trends and ecosystem dynamics across scales. We explore the challenges in using this framework to achieve global conservation goals, including operationalization and monitoring and compliance, and we discuss solutions and research priorities. The mitigation hierarchy’s conceptual power and ability to clarify thinking could provide the step change needed to integrate the multiple elements of conservation goals and interventions in order to achieve successful biodiversity outcomes.
The scale and magnitude of complex and pressing environmental issues lend urgency to the need for integrative and reproducible analysis and synthesis, facilitated by data-intensive research approaches. However, the recent pace of technological change has been such that appropriate skills to accomplish data-intensive research are lacking among environmental scientists, who more than ever need greater access to training and mentorship in computational skills. Here, we provide a roadmap for raising data competencies of current and next-generation environmental researchers by describing the concepts and skills needed for effectively engaging with the heterogeneous, distributed, and rapidly growing volumes of available data. We articulate five key skills: (1) data management and processing, (2) analysis, (3) software skills for science, (4) visualization, and (5) communication methods for collaboration and dissemination. We provide an overview of the current suite of training initiatives available to environmental scientists and models for closing the skill-transfer gap.
Citizen science involves a range of practices involving public participation in scientific knowledge production, but outcomes evaluation is complicated by the diversity of the goals and forms of citizen science. Publications and citations are not adequate metrics to describe citizen-science productivity. We address this gap by contributing a science products inventory (SPI) tool, iteratively developed through an expert panel and case studies, intended to support general-purpose planning and evaluation of citizen-science projects with respect to science productivity. The SPI includes a collection of items for tracking the production of science outputs and data practices, which are described and illustrated with examples. Several opportunities for further development of the initial inventory are highlighted, as well as potential for using the inventory as a tool to guide project management, funding, and research on citizen science.
One of the desired outcomes of dam decommissioning and removal is the recovery of aquatic and riparian ecosystems. To investigate this common objective, we synthesized information from empirical studies and ecological theory into conceptual models that depict key physical and biological links driving ecological responses to removing dams. We define models for three distinct spatial domains: upstream of the former reservoir, within the reservoir, and downstream of the removed dam. Emerging from these models are response trajectories that clarify potential pathways of ecological transitions in each domain. We illustrate that the responses are controlled by multiple causal pathways and feedback loops among physical and biological components of the ecosystem, creating recovery trajectories that are dynamic and nonlinear. In most cases, short-term effects are typically followed by longer-term responses that bring ecosystems to new and frequently predictable ecological condition, which may or may not be similar to what existed prior to impoundment.
The faculty workshop model has long been used for disseminating innovative methods in STEM education. Despite significant investments by researchers and funding agencies, there is a dearth of evidence regarding downstream impacts of faculty development. CREATE is an evidence-based strategy for teaching science using primary literature. In this study, we examined whether workshop-trained faculty applied CREATE methods effectively and whether their students achieved either cognitive or affective gains. We followed 10 workshop alumni at different 4-year institutions throughout the United States. External observations of the teaching indicated a high fidelity of CREATE implementation. The students made significant gains in cognitive (e.g., designing experiments) and affective (e.g., self-efficacy in science process skills) domains. Some student outcomes correlated with particular characteristics (e.g., class size) but not with others (e.g., teaching experience). These findings provide evidence for the robustness of the CREATE dissemination model and provide perspective on factors that may influence pedagogical reform efforts.
We develop a transdisciplinary deliberative model that moves beyond traditional scientific collaborations to include nonscientists in designing complexity-oriented research. We use the case of declining honey bee health as an exemplar of complex real-world problems requiring cross-disciplinary intervention. Honey bees are important pollinators of the fruits and vegetables we eat. In recent years, these insects have been dying at alarming rates. To prompt the reorientation of research toward the complex reality in which bees face multiple challenges, we came together as a group, including beekeepers, farmers, and scientists. Over a 2-year period, we deliberated about how to study the problem of honey bee deaths and conducted field experiments with bee colonies. We show trust and authority to be crucial factors shaping such collaborative research, and we offer a model for structuring collaboration that brings scientists and nonscientists together with the key objects and places of their shared concerns across time.
Despite large advances in the state of the science of stream ecology and river mechanics, the practitioner-driven field of stream restoration remains plagued by narrowly focused projects that sometimes even fail to improve aquatic habitat or geomorphic stability-two nearly universal project goals. The intent of this article is to provide an accessible framework that bridges that gap between the current state of practice and a more geomorphically robust and ecologically holistic foundation that also provides better accounting of socioeconomic factors in support of more sustainable stream restoration outcomes. It points to several more comprehensive design references and presents some simple strategies that could be used to protect against common failure mechanisms of ubiquitous design approaches (i.e., regional curves, Rosgen planform, and grade control). From the simple structure design to the watershed-scale restoration program, this may be a first step toward a more geomorphically principled, ecologically holistic, and socioeconomically sustainable field.