Understanding the biology of the species that are most at risk from this disturbance is a critical prerequisite to developing effective strategies to conserve them.
But scientists who survey endangered animals have to grapple with a number of special challenges alongside the traditional research pressures of publishing and grant writing.
When conservation and landscape ecologists David Lindenmayer and Ben Scheele of the Australian National University published location information on pink-tailed worm-lizards (), a species the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists as “vulnerable,” their institution soon began getting calls from landowners reporting people trespassing on their property to find the animals.
Some of the trespassers, who overturned rocks looking for the reptiles, may have been involved in illegal pet trafficking.
The researchers included a few species in the survey that they already knew were locally extinct as a quality control against false reporting.
With the data they collected, the scientists were able to build species distribution models of the animals, including two of high conservation priority, the cheetah ().Bennett, instead, is working to develop a far less invasive solution: dogs trained to track down the tiger quolls’ scat, which can be analyzed to determine sex, diet, and information about the quolls’ distribution. Bennett’s strategy is just one example of how researchers studying endangered species are coming up with unorthodox solutions to the logistical challenges of tracking or observing organisms that are few and far between.She recently partnered with a search-and-rescue dog trainer to teach volunteer conservation dogs how to locate quoll scat in Great Otway National Park in Victoria. Paul Evangelista, a research ecologist at Colorado State University, came up with his own approach while working in Somaliland, a small breakaway region of Somalia and self-declared state in the Horn of Africa.“Only a few species really need the assessment,” he says.The argument grabbed the attention of a number of other conservation biologists.In the face of these issues, scientists are coming up with unique and creative solutions, from making use of new technologies to advising researchers on how best to present their results.The tiger quoll () is a housecat-size marsupial endemic to Australia.“We’re not just doing this to publish papers—we’re out here trying to save species, and we just have to be very conscious of who sees that data and who has access to it.”Lindenmayer and Scheele addressed the issue head-on in a paper published last year entitled, simply, “Do Not Publish” (, 30–801).In the paper, the researchers laid out the case for protecting data on critically endangered species, and they proposed an assessment that scientists could use to decide whether they should publish their information in the literature.While numbers of the species have been increasing following drastic declines shortly after European colonization, several populations are still considered endangered.Tiger quolls are elusive creatures and provide a challenge to researchers such as Emma Bennett, a wildlife ecologist at Monash University in Melbourne who studies their ecology.