Species stereotypes as a result of unconscious research biases compromise conservation efficacy

J. A. Britnell, R. N. Lewis, F. Elsner-gearing, N. Harvey, E. Stanbrook, S. Shultz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Taxonomic and geographic biases in ecological research are widely recognised. In addition, information bias within a species can impact our understanding of their biology. This can lead to an underestimation of potential intra- or inter-population level variation and plasticity, and incomplete inferences about species response curves across environmental gradients. The consequences of these ‘species stereotypes’ are misestimation of the potential niche and narrow, potentially biased, views of habitat and diet preferences. For example, species may be characterised as ecologically static, or a habitat, diet, or prey ‘specialist’. Several factors can contribute to the formation of a ‘stereotype’, including a focus on extant populations, or a subset of them, that only partially represent the full historical distribution of a species, and an emphasis on species interactions derived from a small number of potential communities. Such species stereotypes are likely widespread and impact on many taxa. These misconceptions can have knock-on effects for conservation programmes and lead to ineffective or harmful conservation interventions such as actively managing species in marginal habitats, not identifying key threats and incorrect predictions of vulnerability to environmental change. Recognising biases is vital to addressing these potential problems and providing accurate information for conservation programmes. Biases can be identified by evaluating historical distributions, translocations within historical distributions, developing mechanistic distribution models and assessing traditional ecological knowledge. We suggest that explicit assessment of biases and potential stereotypes are included in red listing or species assessments, biodiversity action plans, and protected area network design and evaluation.
Original languageEnglish
Article number109275
JournalBiological Conservation
Early online date29 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2021


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