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The Questionable Effectiveness of Science Spending by International Conservation Organizations in the Tropics

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The general context of conservation in the tropics—in the Amazon basin and elsewhere—is stagnant or declining funding and rapidly growing threat levels. For conservation programs this makes strategic deployment of limited conservation resources all the more important. International conservation organizations active in the tropics increasingly define themselves as science driven and expend considerable resources on science-based activities such as ecoregional analysis, field research, and monitoring of ecological variables. I argue that an overemphasis on science has generated a series of unintended but serious problems for conservation in the tropics. Spending on monitoring and ecoregional analysis has effectively starved protection and threat analysis of resources. A decoupling of biology from serious cost-benefit analysis has led to the privileging of small-scale and local analyses, rather than the systemic analyses essential for the strategic allocation of scarce conservation resources. Successful conservation in the tropics depends on the crossing of biogeography with sophisticated threat analysis to identify priority geographies for protection. This should be combined with much more systematic engagement with the principal drivers of tropical deforestation, especially agribusiness. Caution and a sense of proportion are required when balancing the financial demands of science and those of protection. I suggest that conservation organizations should cooperate far more in assembling and analyzing information on conservation spending and on threat levels and biogeography at the continental, national, and regional levels. Site selection should follow rather than precede this kind of strategic analysis, and sites should be considered elements of a network rather than stand-alone projects. More attention should be paid to market-driven conservation through techniques such as certification and responsible supply-chain management.
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Keywords: Amazon; Amazonas; amenazas de extinción; conservation strategies; ecoregiones; ecoregions; estrategias de conservación; extinction threats; monitoreo; monitoring

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: The Nature Conservancy—Amazon Program, Avenida Nazaré 280, Bairro: Nazaré, 66.035-170 Belém—PA, Brazil, Email: [email protected]

Publication date: June 1, 2006

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