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Conservation: academics should 'conserve or perish'

Sir

Your Editorial 'The great divide' (Nature 450, 135–136; 2007) underlines the immense gap between academia and practice in conservation biology. This is simply an evolutionary consequence of selective forces at play for academics.

Turning one's research findings into actions is good for conservation but not necessarily for an academic career. It reduces the time available for preparing manuscripts — and academics in conservation biology are evaluated on their publications, rather than on their involvement in saving species from extinction.

We suggest that an 'impact factor' should be created, inspired by the conventional metric of scientific publications, to assess tenureship applications for academic positions in the field.

This impact factor would be based on an estimation of how much worse the conservation status of an endangered species or ecosystem might be in the absence of the candidate's research. It would select for targeted investigation that should help to fill in 'the great divide', and would exclude opportunistic ecology papers claiming to be of conservation significance.

Such a dual evaluation process would not mean that all conservation academics should become green activists. The role of academics in society is, and should remain, to understand and explain the complexity of the world. It includes supporting evidence-based policy-making in biodiversity conservation.

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Chapron, G., Arlettaz, R. Conservation: academics should 'conserve or perish'. Nature 451, 127 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1038/451127b

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