Conservation news

For Madagascar’s park managers, the science literature is out of reach

  • The park directors and conservation managers responsible for managing Madagascar’s protected areas tend not to rely on scientific research to make on-the-ground decisions, opting instead for experience and advice from others, a new study has found.
  • Several managers, for instance, felt there was “limited research of relevance to them and their needs.”
  • Others complained that even when relevant research was carried out, researchers often did not share the results with them.
  • Overall, Madagascar’s protected area managers need better access to research, and more relevant research, to help them manage the country’s parks more efficiently and effectively, the study’s authors write.

The people responsible for managing Madagascar’s protected areas tend to rely more on experience and “advice from others” than on scientific research to make on-the-ground decisions, a new study has found.

Since 2003, Madagascar has aggressively created new protected areas, quadrupling its protected area coverage by 2016. Much of the conservation research in the country is carried out within these parks. But people who manage the protected areas, such as park directors or conservation managers, use very little of that research, according to the study published in Madagascar Conservation & Development.

Based on completed questionnaires by 85 managers across 53 protected areas, and face-to-face interviews with 54 managers from 29 protected areas, Herimanitra Patrick Rafidimanantsoa of Bangor University, U.K., and his colleagues found that while managers considered scientific research to be useful, they relied mainly on experience — their own and that of others — to guide their decision-making. The vast majority either never or rarely used peer-reviewed publications, the team found.

For some of the routine day-to-day management decisions, research-based information may not be crucial, the authors write. But the managers’ lack of use of scientific research also stems from a number of barriers that prevent them from using research results.

The first barrier is access to peer-reviewed research. Protected-area managers said they found it hard to access papers locked behind journal paywalls. They tended to rely mainly on their internal networks or personal collections for research-based information, and very rarely searched through online forums or research databases.

An indri (Indri indri), a critically endangered lemur that lives in Madagascar’s Makira Natural Park. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.

Several managers also felt that there was “limited research of relevance to them and their needs” — that is, researchers seldom or never worked in their protected areas, or when they did, the research they carried out did not address any of the park’s management questions.

“The problem with our PA [protected area] is that there are very few researchers who come here because the roads are so challenging. The last time there were researchers here was in 2008,” the director of a protected area in eastern Madagascar told the researchers.

Julia P.G. Jones, a professor of conservation science at Bangor University and the study’s co-author, said that a small subset of protected areas in Madagascar tended to attract the vast majority of researchers. “This may be because of access issues — some protected areas are very hard to get to — but it is also because once some researchers work at a site, others tend to also work at that site,” Jones said. “This can be partly because researchers working on one issue may go to a site where they know that data which will complement their study has been collected for example.”

Then there are research results that managers do not know what to do with. In one case, researchers were studying the distribution of ant species in a park, which, while valuable to know, according to the park’s manager, wasn’t useful information for him.

A white spotted reed frog (Heterixalus alboguttatus) in Madagascar’s Ranomafana National Park. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.

Some protected-area managers complained that even when relevant research was carried out, researchers often did not share the results with them — ideally in French, because the managers are usually fluent in French and not English.

“If there are say 50 research investigations done in our PA, I’d say only two or three reach us back. That is one big problem,” the director of a protected area in northern Madagascar told the researchers. “You see the process starts with the institution that delivers or grants the research permits. If that institution is not enforcing the restitution of research results, then researchers simply disregard us.”

“I think most researchers simply don’t think of sharing the results with managers,” said Jones, who has worked extensively in Madagascar. “When they leave the field there are often many months, or even years, of analysis and writing up. I suspect by the time they come to publish the research, especially if they haven’t kept in touch with people at the site, they often feel quite removed from the place the work was done.”

Jones added that while conservation scientists “care hugely” about the impact of their work, the current incentive structures under which they operate — pressure to publish in high-impact journals, applying for the next grant, getting papers cited in academic journals — leave little time for them to share their results outside academia.

However, there are examples of researchers and protected-area managers in Madagascar teaming up to do research that’s relevant for the park’s management.

“A number of organisations involved in protected area management in Madagascar really do make an effort to base their research as closely as possible on research evidence,” Jones said. “They work with researchers to encourage researchers to work on questions of relevance to management and encourage researchers to share results regularly. From my own experience I have had excellent experience with Madagascar National Parks who were very interested in the research I did (back in the day) on the sustainability of crayfish harvesting.”

Overall, though, Madagascar’s protected-area managers need better access to research, and more relevant research, to help them manage parks more efficiently and effectively, the authors write.

“Protected area managers have a really difficult job to do and they need the best quality information at their finger tips,” Jones said. “If we researchers think that the research we do matters, surely we must think that it is worth sharing with the people in a position to use it?”

Eastern lesser bamboo lemur (Hapalemur griseus). Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.

Citation:

Rafidimanantsoa, H. P., Poudyal, M., Ramamonjisoa, B. S., & Jones, J. P. (2018). Mind the gap: the use of research in protected area management in Madagascar. Madagascar Conservation & Development, 13(1).