Research priorities for conservation and natural resource management in Oceania’s small-island developing states

For conservation science to effectively inform conservation action, research must focus on creating the scientific knowledge required to solve conservation problems, and researchers must effectively communicate that knowledge to practitioners. In the last decade or so, numerous exercises have been conducted to identify priority research questions or horizon scan for important upcoming research themes (for example: for conservation research globally, for the US, UK, Canada, and Australia).

We noticed that a critical part of our region, the Pacific Islands, were not well represented in these studies. In response, we set out to identify research priorities for Oceania, and to see whether and how these differed from those previously identified for other regions. We were also interested to see whether survey respondents from different sectors (i.e. academia, NGOs, government) had different perceptions of “high priority” research questions, and whether there was an apparent knowledge-action gap – indicated by research questions posed by practitioners which scientists considered to be already answered.

Many thanks to everyone who participated in the project by completing our online surveys! The results from that process have recently been published in Conservation Biology. The paper is online and Open Access, and some of the results are summarised below. The top three priority questions overall were:

  1. What are the highest priority areas for conservation (and sustainable development efforts) in the face of increasing resource demand and climate change?
  2. How should marine protected areas be networked to account for connectivity and climate change?
  3. What minimum level of protection is needed to ensure the long-term sustainability of coastal fisheries stocks under future projected changes to coastal habitats and species?

Many of the research questions prioritized by scientists and practitioners point to the need to resolve trade-offs between objectives related to livelihoods and biodiversity conservation or to decide how best to invest limited resources. These questions speak to the particular challenges of undertaking conservation within small island developing states, and the need for a research agenda that is responsive to the sociocultural context of Oceania.

Weeks, R., & Adams, V. M. (2017). Research priorities for conservation and natural resource management in Oceania’s small island developing states. Conservation Biology.