An ecological approach to community-based conservation
Lipman, Alison Jeannine
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The essential role that science plays in conservation is widely recognized in the literature and in conservation legislation. However, there is often a disconnect between science and conservation in practice, especially in locally-based projects, where the results of ecological research rarely translate to a local ethic. This is especially true in "community-based" conservation efforts, which attempt to include local people in conservation, so as to create projects that are more equitable, locally relevant, and conserve biodiversity outside of protected areas. I address the often cited failure of community-based projects to both conserve biodiversity and provide locally relevant planning. I present a turtle conservation project based in ecological research and directly managed by local people in Noel Kempff Mercado National Park (PNNKM), in the Amazon Basin of Bolivia. It is collaboration between PNNKM administration and local indigenous communities that works to conserve Podocnemis unifilis (yellow-spotted Amazon river turtle) and P. expansa (giant South American river turtle), declining river turtles that are important biodiversity components and have regionally important cultural and economic values. I present ecological and social research, collected by local people, with my scientific collaboration, that will inform a community-based PNNKM management plan for the species. Ecological research investigates local population viability and threats (human and natural) to the species. Studies include: (1) a nesting study that compares turtle reproduction (number of nests laid, female turtle size, hatchling size, and nest survival) between sites at different levels of human use; (2) a social study that investigates local consumption of the species; and (3) interviews that query local knowledge of the species and opinions and ideas for the management plan. Results document strong negative effects in turtle populations that are close to human settlements, high levels of local consumption of the species, and high levels of nest mortality caused by animal predation and river inundation. Social studies document majority local support for the project and belief that a management plan will be necessary for local conservation of the species. Results will directly inform the PNNKM community-based management plan. Methods and results could be relevant to conservation schemes throughout the tropics.