Sunday, 18 November 2012

Have the guidelines really sunk in?

This post features a paper by Irene Perez and co-authors (2012), and is a wake-up call for those of us undertaking translocations as it reports on the lack of compliance with 10 key criteria for evaluating translocation projects. None of the criteria will be new to anyone who has read the IUCN Guidelines on Re-introductions (1998) and so it is pretty shocking to see that the median number of criteria in published studies is three, and in a dataset of Spanish translocations used to avoid publication bias, the median number of criteria used rises only to five. Even if, as the authors acknowledge is possible, the publications and reports neglect to mention criteria that were addressed in any feasibility assessment of translocations, it seems appropriate to expect that a full rationale of every translocation is available for all stakeholders to view.

Perez et al. go on to propose a propose hierarchical decision-making system, represented as a flow chart.  It is sensible and easy to apply to real examples of candidate species for translocation. However, I worry that with all attempts to provide a framework for complex decision processes, some of the important detail is omitted.  Ultimately, the responsibility of properly interpreting the decision-making system is left with the person undertaking a translocation and this framework might be open to misuse whether intentional or not.  For example, the second level of the decision-making system asks if risks are posed to the target species, other species or ecosystems by undertaking a translocation.  As Perez et al. have demonstrated, risk evaluation is not a strong point in the translocation community and the comprehensiveness of risk assessment will vary enormously based on practitioner capacity and data availability. Further, the dichotomous outcome following the question on risk is presented as 'intolerable risk' versus 'tolerable risk' and this is a subjective decision that I know from experience would divide stakeholders in species conservation.

It seems to me that we need to get better at explicitly addressing guideline documents and particularly the area of evaluating risk potential in terms of the target species and other species and the ecosystem at both the donor and recipient sites. We also need to develop robust ways of judging where the balance lies between tolerable and intolerable risks and involve stakeholders in this decision. There is plenty of treatment of risk in the scientific literature but as far as I'm aware (and Perez et al.'s paper would support me on this), few examples of practical assessments of risk prior to a proposed translocation. If someone out there is already doing this please make yourselves known - we need to learn by your example!

Pérez, I., Anadón, J. D., Díaz, M., Nicola, G. G., Tella, J. L., & Giménez, A. (2012). What is wrong with current translocations? A review and a decision-making proposal. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 10(9), 494–501. doi:10.1890/110175

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