Diverse methods may be required to understand and solve conservation problems in species recovery. These problems are usually multi-faceted. Endangered species recovery is a biological challenge, but it also requires that professionals and the public support an organized recovery effort in a timely, rational, and effective way. Biological, social, and interdisciplinary methods all lend themselves to aid the multi-dimensional task of species recovery, although social science and interdisciplinary methods are little used currently. These three kinds of methodological approaches are briefly examined. We end the paper with a call for increased interdisciplinary approaches, as we believe they promise greater effectiveness in species conservation.
Endangered species conservation is usually a complex, multi-dimensional challenge. As such, endangered species recovery programs require the use of diverse methods to determine which processes threaten a species and what to do to achieve recovery. Interdisciplinary approaches that incorporate multiple methods in biology and the social sciences promise to improve species restoration efforts. Biological methods focus on the species and its ecosystem. Social science methods examine the decision and social processes, including how the values and perspectives of participants and the situation affect recovery efforts. Interdisciplinary methods systematically integrate biological and social research into a unified recovery program.
Many universities offer programs in biological and social methods, and a few even offer interdisciplinary programs that address the full challenge posed by endangered species conservation. The established, but separate, disciplines (e.g., wildlife biology, sociology, policy analysis) train professionals to be knowledgeable in different methods. Despite the obvious need for professionals skilled in integrative approaches, there are few jobs in endangered species recovery that explicitly utilize interdisciplinary problem solvers. Fortunately, the situation is changing. Conservation and related professions, university training programs, and the organizational contexts of practice are in flux today and prospects for using fully integrative methodologies in the future is improving. We expect that interdisciplinary approaches using multiple methods and inclusive participation will significantly improve success rates over more narrow approaches that rely on a limited set of methods, a single discipline, or domination by single (or just a few), self-interested people or organizations.
In this paper, we (1) offer a brief overview of multiple methods in endangered species recovery, (2) look briefly at available biological and social science methods, and (3) introduce an interdisciplinary approach we believe best uses and integrates knowledge obtained from the diverse biological and social methods currently employed to restore endangered species.
Multiple methods: a strategy in species recovery
Using multiple methods in endangered species recovery is like triangulation wherein a radio collared Florida panther's (Felis concolor) location is located, or `fixed,' using three receiver readings from different angles. As conservationists, we can best get a `fix' on a conservation problem by using different methods, ideally a combination of biological and social science methods. In our case, triangulation means using and integrating data from diverse sources about a problem and its context. It means using different investigators, ideally working in close collaboration. Different theories should guide work and interpret data. Multiple methods should be used to investigate a problem from different perspectives in order to develop the fullest possible picture of the conservation problem and alternatives to address it. Just as using multiple methods to address a specific research interest increases the reliability of results (e.g., independent measures of population size from an aerial survey, a ground survey, and capture-resighting data), so too do multiple methods increase the reliability of problem definitions. Using multiple methods to analyze a problem can improve the reliability, richness, and diversity of data available to researchers, decision makers, and managers (Clark 1993; Janesick 1994).
Increasingly, researchers are being called upon to address complexity (and risk)--a key theme of endangered species conservation. Perhaps it is not surprising therefore that some of the most interesting technical innovations in conservation were developed to cope with complexity and the long-term, exploratory, and creative dimensions of protecting and recovering endangered species (e.g., population viability analysis). The task is not to deny or try to minimize complexity in species conservation, but to instead emphasize the complexity, and search for ways to understand and address it. To this end, being knowledgeable and skilled in using and integrating multiple methods is key to successful recovery programs.
Studying endangered species using multiple methods is different from studying more abundant wildlife for several reasons. First, the species under study usually persists in low numbers (and density) and occurs in limited or shrinking habitat. As researchers, we must take great care to ensure that our work does not put the species or even individuals at risk. The species' status may limit the kinds of methods that can be used; therefore, methods …