Shortfalls in conservation evidence: moving from ecological effects of interventions to policy evaluation

Vanessa M. Adams*, Megan Barnes, Robert L. Pressey

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    28 Citations (Scopus)


    Conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services in natural environments requires careful management choices. However, common methods of evaluating the impact of conservation interventions can have contextual shortcomings. Here, we make a call for counterfactual thinking—asking the question “what would have happened in the absence of an intervention?”—with the support of rigorous evaluation approaches and more thoughtful consideration of human dimensions and behavior. We review and contrast different evaluation approaches and highlight the advantages of counterfactual approaches over alternative methods. We also illustrate how even robust estimates of ecological impact can fail to estimate the impact of specific policy interventions. The latter depend importantly on human preferences and responses to regulations and incentives that cannot be captured by studies of ecological impact. We propose specific and practical steps that all evaluations can implement now to immediately improve their credibility and accountability.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)62-75
    Number of pages14
    JournalOne Earth
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 20 Sept 2019


    • conservation evidence
    • counterfactual thinking
    • impact evaluation
    • policy evaluation
    • quasi-experimental evaluation


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