What does a conservation behaviorist do?

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What is a Conservation Behaviorist?

Conservation behaviorists are scientists who apply principles from behavioral science to address conservation challenges. They study the behaviors of both humans and animals in natural environments to develop strategies for wildlife conservation, habitat protection, and sustainability.

By understanding and influencing human behavior, conservation behaviorists aim to mitigate human-wildlife conflicts, promote environmental education and awareness, conserve biodiversity, encourage sustainable resource use, and provide evidence-based recommendations to policymakers and stakeholders to support conservation initiatives. Their interdisciplinary approach combines knowledge from psychology, ethology, ecology, and other related disciplines to bridge the gap between scientific research and practical conservation action.

What does a Conservation Behaviorist do?

Loggerhead sea turtle hatchling heading towards the ocean.

Duties and Responsibilities
Conservation behaviorists use their interdisciplinary expertise to develop and implement effective strategies that protect and sustain our planet's biodiversity and natural resources. Their work involves:

  • Studying Animal Behavior – observing and analyzing the behavior of wildlife to understand their interactions with their environment, other species, and humans, often involving the use of remote cameras
  • Data Analysis – analyzing data collected in the field, entering observations into databases, and using statistical tools to identify patterns, trends, and insights related to wildlife behavior, habitat use, or human-wildlife conflicts
  • Developing Conservation Strategies – tailoring conservation strategies to the specific needs and behaviors of different species
  • Monitoring and Evaluation – assessing the effectiveness of conservation interventions and adapting strategies based on ongoing research and monitoring to ensure that conservation efforts are achieving their objectives and making a positive impact on biodiversity and ecosystem health

Types of Conservation Behaviorists
Now that we have a sense of the general scope of the conservation behaviorist’s work, let’s look at some different types of conservation behaviorists, each focusing on specific areas within the field:

  • Wildlife Behaviorists focus on studying the behavior of wild animals in their natural habitats to understand their interactions with the environment, other species, and humans. They may conduct research on issues such as animal migration, foraging behavior, mating rituals, and social dynamics within animal populations to inform conservation strategies and management practices.
  • Human-Wildlife Conflict Specialists work to mitigate conflicts between humans and wildlife, such as crop raiding by elephants, predation on livestock by carnivores, or human encroachment on animal habitats. This may involve designing barriers, creating wildlife corridors, or employing non-lethal deterrents, promoting coexistence between people and wildlife.
  • Conservation Education and Outreach Coordinators specialize in designing and implementing educational programs, workshops, and outreach initiatives to raise awareness about conservation issues, inspire pro-environmental behaviors, and inspire people to protect biodiversity and natural habitats. This often involves developing educational materials, organizing events, and collaborating with educators, community leaders, and conservation organizations.
  • Sustainable Behavior Specialists focus on studying and influencing human behaviors related to natural resource consumption, waste management, energy use, and other sustainable practices. They develop interventions and campaigns to promote environmentally friendly behaviors and encourage the adoption of sustainable lifestyles.
  • Community-Based Conservationists work closely with local communities, indigenous groups, and stakeholders to develop and implement community-based conservation plans and projects. They collaborate with community members to address conservation challenges, integrate local knowledge and practices, and foster community ownership and stewardship of natural resources.
  • Conservation Policy and Advocacy Experts focus on providing scientific evidence, recommendations, and expertise to policymakers, government agencies, NGOs, and other stakeholders to support conservation policies, laws, and regulations. These specialists engage in policy analysis, advocacy, and capacity-building initiatives to enhance the legal and institutional frameworks for biodiversity conservation and environmental protection.
  • Conservation Behavior Researchers conduct research to advance our understanding of animal behavior, human-wildlife interactions, and the effectiveness of conservation interventions. They use a variety of research methods, including field observations, experiments, surveys, and data analysis, to generate new knowledge and insights that inform conservation practice and policy and management decisions.

While these are some of the specialized roles and subfields within conservation behavior, many conservation behaviorists work across multiple areas and collaborate with experts from other disciplines, such as conservation biology, ecology, wildlife management, psychology, and anthropology, to develop holistic and integrated approaches to conservation.

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What is the workplace of a Conservation Behaviorist like?

Conservation behaviorists can work for a variety of organizations, institutions, and agencies that are involved in wildlife conservation and environmental management, research, education, and advocacy. These are among their most common employers:

  • Government Agencies – Conservation behaviorists may work for state or federal government agencies responsible for managing and protecting natural resources, wildlife habitats, and public lands. Examples include the Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Natural Resources.
  • Fish and Wildlife Services – They may work for agencies like the US Fish and Wildlife Service or similar organizations in other countries, focusing on wildlife conservation, habitat restoration, and endangered species protection.
  • Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) – Conservation behaviorists are often employed by conservation and environmental protection organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy, and Wildlife Conservation Society. They may also work for research-focused NGOs and institutes that specialize in wildlife research, conservation biology, and environmental science.
  • Academic Institutions – Conservation behaviorists may work as faculty members, researchers, or postdoctoral fellows at universities, colleges, and research institutions. They may also work at field stations, ecological observatories, or research facilities dedicated to studying wildlife behavior, ecology, and conservation in natural habitats.
  • Zoos, Aquariums, and Wildlife Parks – Conservation behaviorists may be employed by zoos, aquariums, and wildlife parks to conduct research, manage conservation programs, and develop educational initiatives focused on wildlife conservation, animal behavior, and habitat preservation.
  • Environmental and Conservation Consultancies – Conservation behaviorists may work for consulting firms, providing expertise and services to government agencies, NGOs, private companies, and other clients on a wide range of conservation and environmental management projects.
  • Community-based Organizations – They may work with community conservation groups and organizations, developing and implementing local conservation projects.
  • International Organizations and Agencies – Conservation behaviorists may work for international organizations such as the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and other intergovernmental agencies involved in global conservation initiatives, policy development, and capacity-building activities.

Conservation behaviorists may also work as independent consultants, freelancers, or entrepreneurs, offering specialized services, expertise, and solutions to a diverse range of clients and stakeholders involved in conservation and environmental sustainability.

Work environments in the conservation behavior sector can vary widely, but commonly include:

  • Field Sites – Conservation behaviorists often spend a significant amount of time working in the field, in natural habitats such as forests, grasslands, wetlands, deserts, and marine environments. Fieldwork can be physically demanding and may involve working in remote or challenging conditions, including extreme temperatures, rugged terrain, and inclement weather.
  • Research Laboratories – They may work in research laboratories or field stations equipped with specialized equipment and facilities for studying animal behavior, ecology, genetics, and physiology. They may conduct experiments, analyze samples, and use advanced technologies and scientific tools to study wildlife and gather data for conservation research.
  • Office Settings – Conservation behaviorists also spend time working in office settings, where they conduct data analysis; write reports, research papers, or funding applications; develop conservation plans and proposals; manage projects; collaborate with team members; and communicate with stakeholders, partners, and clients. They may use computers, software, and other technology tools to organize data, create presentations, and facilitate remote communication and collaboration with colleagues and clients.
  • Teaching Spaces – Conservation behaviorists who teach courses and mentor students in academic settings spend some of their time in classrooms and lecture halls as well as research labs and field study sites.

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Conservation Behaviorists are also known as:
Behavior Ecology Conservationist Wildlife Behavior Conservationist