If we build it, they will come...
...or perhaps they won’t (and it will have been a waste of money)
Billions of pounds are spent every year on biodiversity conservation as we struggle to reverse declines and meet national and international targets. But how do we know that our actions are effective and the money well spent?
More often than not, the answer is that we don’t. For instance, less than 1% of river restoration projects are subject to statistically robust evaluation of change in biological communities. This is shocking (or it should be!) but understandable, as measurement of biodiversity has been too slow and demanding of scarce expertise for it to be used as a true response variable, measured repeatedly across time and space to demonstrate change. Instead we just have to hope or assume) that interventions will have positive effects.
DNA-based methods change this. By allowing rapid characterisation of entire communities, regular and routine monitoring becomes possible, and with results available within weeks of sampling, evidence-based decisions can be made during the project cycle to ensure best results. Evidence of impact can be provided to project funders and other stakeholders, and lessons learned that can improve the likelihood of a positive outcome in future projects.
We have been doing conservation blindly; these methods help us to see.