Conservation practitioners’ understanding of how to manage evolutionary processes

Authors: Carly N Cook and Carla M. Sgrò

Published in: Conservation Biology


Both academics and practitioners consider a lack of knowledge about evolutionary theory to be a general barrier to effectively managing genetic diversity. However, it is challenging to judge practitioners’ level of understanding and how this influences their management decisions. Knowledge built through experience may be difficult for practitioners to articulate, but could nonetheless result in appropriate management strategies. To date, researchers have assessed only the explicit (formal) knowledge practitioners have of evolutionary concepts.

To explore practitioners’ understanding of evolutionary concepts, it is necessary to consider how they might apply explicit and implicit knowledge to their management decisions. Using an online survey, we asked Australian practitioners to respond to 2 common management scenarios in which there is strong evidence that managing genetic diversity can improve outcomes: managing small, isolated populations and sourcing seeds for restoration projects.

In describing their approach to these scenarios, practitioners demonstrated a stronger understanding of the effective management of genetic diversity than the definitions of the relevant concepts. However, their management of genetic diversity within small populations was closer to best practice than for restoration projects. Moreover, the risks practitioners described in implementing best practice management were more likely to affect their approach to restoration than translocation projects.

These findings provide evidence that strategies to build the capacity of practitioners to manage genetic diversity should focus on realistic management scenarios. Given that practitioners recognize the importance of adapting their practices and the strong evidence for the benefits of actively managing genetic diversity, there is hope that better engagement by evolutionary biologists with practitioners could facilitate significant shifts toward evolutionarily enlightened management.


Cook CN, Sgrò CM (2019) Conservation practitioners’ understanding of how to manage evolutionary processes. Conservation Biology PDF DOI