Monday, August 1, 2022

August 2022 science summary

Bubble in garden


After publishing no peer-reviewed science in 2021, two papers I'm a co-author on were published this month!

The first (Vijay et al. 2022) looks at how different conservation goals for people and nature tend to align and conflict: identifying both win-wins and trade-offs to inform conservation priorities. The second (James et al. 2022) is an analysis of scientific publications by staff at The Nature Conservancy split by gender, along with recommendations to improve the ability of women (especially from the Global South) to publish research. Let me know if you have questions about either after reading the summaries below!

I've also got an interesting article on the IUCN Red List of threatened ecosystems, and a great framework to think through freshwater conservation needs and approaches.

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James et al. 2022 analyzed almost 3,000 peer-reviewed scientific publications with at least one author from The Nature Conservancy (TNC) by gender of the author(s) - all that we could find from 1968 to 2019. Roughly 1/3 of the TNC authors and authorships (# authors * # papers) were women, even though 45% of conservation and science staff are women. Most authorships were in the U.S. - 85% overall and 90% for women. This means men (especially men in the United States) are publishing at a significantly higher rate than women. We close with several recommendations to help shrink this gap. Some are aimed at individual scientists (e.g., self-education on bias and systemic barriers, asking men to collaborate more with women as male-led papers have far fewer women co-authors than female-led papers, and asking lead authors to be more inclusive in determining whose contributions merit being listed as an author), and others are aimed at organizations (e.g., providing more resources and support for women who wish to publish, especially for women who don't speak English as a first language). I learned a ton from both the data and my co-authors on this one, and we have another 1-2 papers on the subject coming which will get into the results of a survey the lead author did to get deeper into the experience of how gender impacts not only publication but perceptions of influence and career advancement. Note that our available data listed everyone's gender as male, female, or unknown - apologies to those who we misgendered or otherwise failed to reflect their lived experience with a relatively simple binary analysis (especially as gender diverse people appear to be even more underrepresented in science publications).
You can read blogs about the article at and

As conservation organizations try to work towards multiple goals, Vijay et al. 2022 asks whether we can protect places that efficiently advance multiple goals at once, or if we have to pick between places good for one goal but that perform poorly for others. We looked at opportunities to advance five benefits by protecting land in the contiguous United States: vertebrate species richness, threatened vertebrate species richness, carbon storage, area protected, and recreational usage. Specifically we looked at Return On Investment (ROI) meaning the benefit score compared to the cost of the land (as a proxy for difficulty of protecting it). The results are a bit complicated: this paper focused only on unprotected habitat which is predicted to be converted by 2100, and with that framing the four environmental benefits were both highly correlated overall (r 0.89-0.99) and had a lot of the "top sites" in common (the highest scoring places for one benefit often had a top score for another benefit, 32-79% of the time). Recreation had less in common with environmental benefits (r 0.5-0.52, only 7-13% of the top sites were also a top site for another benefit). That still shows a lot of opportunity for win-wins across the nation! However, if you DON'T constrain conservation to places where land use is projected to change by 2100, win-wins are harder to find (as shown in the Supplementary Information). Species richness and area were the most compatible with a high r of 0.58 and 24% of top sites in common, and area and recreation were the least aligned, with an r of -0.65 and no top sites in common. There's a lot of interesting stuff in the paper (including comparing how three hypothetical policy scenarios score on each benefit), and I've written a slightly longer summary here:

You're probably familiar with the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species - which ranks how at risk species around the world are. Comer et al. 2022 is an analysis for the Red List of ECOSYSTEMS for North America - looking at the risk of ecological collapse for 655 terrestrial ecosystems considering: current extent, how much historic extent has been lost, degradation from historic fire regime, and disruption of biotic processes (focused on invasive species and landscape fragmentation). They found 1/3 of ecosystems were threatened, and Fig 2 shows which types of ecosystems were the most threatened (like Mediterranean Scrub & Grassland, which had the highest % of extent that was threatened, and Tropical Montane Grassland & Shrubland, which had the highest % Critically Endangered). Fig 1 has a great pair of maps showing both current and historic extent of all assessed ecosystems (colored by threat level). There is also an excellent discussion of the challenges and limitations in doing an analysis like this (section 4.2). Despite these limitations, this provides a useful complement to species-focused prioritizations (like range-size rarity).

Higgins et al. 2021 (from a team of scientists and lawyers) argues that since freshwater species are declining faster than terrestrial species, and effective durable freshwater conservation is typically harder to get right, we need more thoughtful design of freshwater protection and management. They offer a framework to do that, beginning with key questions (about things like what you value, key ecological attributes [KEAs] to conserve, threats to ecosystems, and protection options), which is summarized in Figure 1. Table 1 is extremely useful: it outlines 5 key ecological attributes that freshwater systems need: 1) hydrologic regime / healthy flow, 2) connectivity , 3) water quality (nutrients, sediment, toxins, etc.), 4) habitat (riparian, in-stream, other wetlands), 5) species (diversity, abundance, invasives). Table 1 also lists threats, Table 2 has conservation options, and Table 3 has helpful and relatively simple examples to get you started. Doing this work is hard! But I found this article to be a great challenge to keep thinking beyond protecting the land around freshwater ecosystems, and planning for what they need over the long-term.


Comer, P. J., Hak, J. C., & Seddon, E. (2022). Documenting at-risk status of terrestrial ecosystems in temperate and tropical North America. Conservation Science and Practice, 4(2), 1–13.

Higgins, J., Zablocki, J., Newsock, A., Krolopp, A., Tabas, P., & Salama, M. (2021). Durable Freshwater Protection: A Framework for Establishing and Maintaining Long-Term Protection for Freshwater Ecosystems and the Values They Sustain. Sustainability, 13(4), 1950.

James, R., Ariunbaatar, J., Bresnahan, M., Carlos‐Grotjahn, C., Fisher, J. R. B., Gibbs, B., Hausheer, J. E., Nakozoete, C., Nomura, S., Possingham, H., & Lyons, K. (2022). Gender and conservation science: Men continue to out‐publish women at the world’s largest environmental conservation non‐profit organization. Conservation Science and Practice, January, 1–9.

Vijay, V., Fisher, J. R. B., & Armsworth, P. R. (2022). Co‐benefits for terrestrial biodiversity and ecosystem services available from contrasting land protection policies in the contiguous United States. Conservation Letters, February, 1–9.

p.s. This large bubble is over my 'butterfly garden' which is currently full of flowers and pollinators!