Multinational research: protecting ecology means understanding people, too

Talking to a biologist about ones feelings could produce the same reaction as, say, telling a sociologist about molecules. Yet if the problems confronting conservation of the worlds biodiversity are to be tackled and fixed, then science and people must mix.

So say Dr. Lee Fitzgerald, a conservation biologist who has traveled through Latin America for 20 years studying reptiles, and Dr. Amanda Stronza, a cultural anthropologist who has for 15 years studied ecotourism and indigenous peoples in the Amazon.

Fitzgerald and Stronza now will lead 20 other professors at Texas A&M University on a $3 million National Science Foundation grant aimed at cutting down barriers between biological and social science in order to help conserve the worlds rich biodiversity.

When we were developing this project, we realized that there are many biological scientists working in conservation who lack training and skills in how to deal with all the social science issues, Fitzgerald said. The same was true in Stronzas field.

I can tell you what people are saying and doing in their environment I hunt this often, or I fish this often, or we protected this forest, she said. But I am not trained to go out in the world and see what effect those actions are having on the wildlife or the forest.

Funds will come from a science foundation program called Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship which helps U.S. doctoral students become leaders in their fields. The program seeks ways to cross traditional barriers, such as when scientists in different disciplines need to know what researchers in companion fields are studying, according to the science foundation.

In bridging gaps between different fields of study, the science foundation notes, students also are better prepared to be broadly inclusive in their careers.

The effort is timely, Fitzgerald said, because a wave of retirements is about to sweep over those U.S. agencies where lo

Contact: Kathleen Phillips
Texas A&M University - Agricultural Communications

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