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Poor understanding of evolutionary theory is a barrier to effective conservation management

Cook, Carly N., Sgrò, Carla M.
Conservation letters 2019 v.12 no.2 pp. e12619
evolution, genetic variation, information exchange, population genetics
Despite increasing recognition that integrating evolutionary theory into conservation decisions can achieve better long‐term outcomes, there has been little progress adapting management strategies. A commonly hypothesized barrier to better integration is poor understanding of evolutionary biology among conservation practitioners. To assess this claim, we surveyed conservation practitioners to determine their understanding of evolutionary concepts. We found that most practitioners had a good understanding of general concepts (evolution and genetic diversity), but a much poorer understanding of other relevant concepts. These findings suggest that knowledge is limiting the ability of conservation practitioners to effectively manage evolutionary processes. Encouragingly, practitioners educated in evolutionary biology and population genetics had a better understanding, suggesting focused training is important. However, better integration of evolutionary theory will require that evolutionary biologists develop a culture of knowledge exchange, actively engaging practitioners to improve management. Otherwise, our findings suggest it is unlikely practitioners will be able to adapt their practices.