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Breaking out of the echo chamber: missed opportunities for genetics at conservation conferences

Taylor, Helen R., Soanes, Kylie
Biodiversity and conservation 2016 v.25 no.10 pp. 1987-1993
conservation practices, genomics, wildlife management
Genetic approaches have proven useful for addressing various conservation problems, but genetics remains poorly integrated into conservation practice. Multidisciplinary conservation conferences present excellent opportunities for bridging the conservation-genetics gap and facilitating cross-disciplinary projects. We hypothesize that there is a tendency for presentations featuring genetic approaches to be siloed into approach specific sessions, creating an “echo chamber”; geneticists are left talking amongst themselves, hindering collaboration across disciplines. To test this, we reviewed abstracts from the past six Society for Conservation Biology conferences and assessed how presentations featuring genetics/genomics were distributed throughout the respective programs. We found that: the segregation of presentations featuring genetics varied widely between conferences (22–78 %); that no other method or approach was segregated to the same degree; and that the vast majority (99 %) of presentations featuring genetics had broader applications that made them appropriate for other sessions. We argue that segregating genetics at conservation conferences in this way is unhelpful and serves to strengthen the idea that genetics is not relevant to a wider conservation audience. We recommend that; (1) conference organisers endeavour to facilitate the integration of genetics into sessions based on the conservation questions addressed, rather than the methods used to address them; and (2) geneticists make the practical application of their work clear at abstract submission and during presentations. These recommendations are not novel, but our data illustrate a clear need for them to be implemented to better facilitate integration of genetic research that will benefit conservation outcomes.