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New data portal makes research more accessible

URBANA, IL -- When policy makers need to make conservation decisions, the evidence is either hard to find, hard to access, and/or hard to understand. Much of the information that conservationists seek is in PDFs locked up behind paywalls, buried in organization websites, and lurking on hard drives never to see the light of day. Even when systematic maps and reviews are open access, there is still not an intuitive way to explore and obtain necessary information.

The Science for Nature and People Partnership Evidence-Based Conservation working group recognized this significant barrier between research data and the people and organizations aiming to solve the world’s conservation problems: How to distill critical information from the mountains of existing data.

The group created a new online portal to make conservation data readily accessible and explorable. Users can filter, explore, and visualize desired information using a policy-relevant framework. The portal provides access to thousands of available datasets on human well-being and natural ecosystems so policy makers and others can synthesize the data and make better conservation decisions.

“This tool will be enormously useful to researchers, practitioners, and policymakers, especially in the context of efforts to work toward the new sustainable development goals,” says Daniel Miller, assistant professor of natural resources and environmental sciences at the University of Illinois and former World Bank Program on Forests staff member. “The portal is a ‘one-stop shop’ for information on what we know about how different conservation interventions affect human well-being. It will save time and money, not only by quickly showing what is currently known, but also by highlighting key evidence gaps.”

Miller says this type of portal currently exists and is widely used for a variety of physical, biological, and ecological data. For example, the National Center for Biotechnology Information’s GenBank is the standard repository for genetic information. A few data portals, such as Conservation Evidence, contain information on conservation actions and biological outcomes, but until now no similar database or data portal has existed for the linkages between conservation and human well-being information.

The new SNAPP tool operates as a flexible, graphical data portal for the links between conservation interventions and human well-being outcomes that allows users to download desired information as well as charts and summaries. It collates information from over 1,000 studies in an easy-to-interpret way and visualizes it for quick uptake. Users can filter the information by intervention and outcome type, geographic location, biome and study design – allowing them to hone in on regions and ecosystems of interest and gain quick information on the abundance and general quality of information for specific linkages and areas. The tool also offers the ability to download full datasets and bibliographic information.

“The world is faced with environmental crises ranging from pollution, to overfishing, to climate change,” says Samantha Cheng of the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at the University of California Santa Barbara, and a SNAPP post-doctoral research fellow. “The actions that we take to address these issues will have long-lasting and widespread effects, which, if negative, will do more harm than good. Making decisions based on evidence for what works and what doesn’t work is absolutely critical if we want to achieve successful conservation.”

The SNAPP Evidence-Based Conservation working group is led by researchers from Conservation International and Wildlife Conservation Society.