New Study Demonstrates Ways to Bridge the Gap between Science and On-the-Ground Conservation

Audubon Great Lakes uses collaborative decision-making to restore wetlands

CHICAGO (July 8, 2020) – New research entitled "Bridging the research- implementation gap in avian conservation with translational ecology," was recently published in a peer-reviewed journal, Ornithological Applications, by multiple researchers, including scientists from universities, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Geological Survey, US Forest Service, and Audubon. The study examines the principles of translational ecology and demonstrates how a collaborative approach can result in improved environmental decision-making, helping to close the gap between research and implementation in bird conservation.  

Translational ecology is an intentional decision-making approach in which ecologists, stakeholders and managers work collaboratively to co-produce research that addresses ecological and conservation issues. The paper cites six principles of translational ecology that can create synergy between objectives, goals, strategies and constraints. These principles include collaboration, engagement, commitment, communication, process and decision-framing. Science doesn’t always result in conservation. This paper dives into the gap between them and how we can use ‘translational ecology’ to bridge that gap.

“As a changing climate threatens our birds and their habitats at exceptional rates, the need for solutions to our environmental challenges is more pressing than ever,” said Dr. Sarah Saunders, Quantitative Ecologist at National Audubon Society and lead author of the paper. “With limited resources and funds, applying translational ecology principles can help ensure that the strategies, goals and outcomes among researchers and conservationists are aligned, which can improve environmental decision-making for the benefit of birds and people.” 

The paper provides several on-the-ground examples that demonstrate how organizations and programs have successfully applied the principles of translational ecology to bird conservation in North America and beyond. 

One of the case studies highlights Audubon Great Lakes’ collaborative work with partners to restore Calumet wetlands along the southern shore of Lake Michigan for conservation of marshbird populations and native plant communities. To achieve this, Audubon Great Lakes brought Audubon scientists, private landowners and coastal communities together to form the Calumet Wetland Conservation Working Group in 2015. Since then, this group has been working to restore hydrological connectivity and natural water level management. Audubon Great Lakes engages this group at every stage of restoration: from goal setting, to restoration work, to joint data collection and final reporting. These approaches help bridge the research-implementation gap in bird conservation across the Calumet region.

This important restoration work is further strengthened by Audubon’s Government Affairs team, who are advancing conservation policies and building community connections with local Audubon chapters. In addition, Audubon Great Lakes’ Wild Indigo Nature Explorations engagement program brings underserved voices to the conservation table by activating communities of color in areas affected most by environmental injustice, including communities in the Calumet area.

“Audubon is a rare conservation organization that is able to do the science, outreach and implementation, connecting communities to the science in the Great Lakes region and nationwide,” said Stephanie Beilke, conservation manager at Audubon Great Lakes. “Ultimately, research shows that teamwork can help close the research-implementation gap in the conservation sciences during a time when numerous issues are threatening birds and their habitats.”

Audubon Great Lakes continues to implement this multi-faceted approach to build community connection and advance conservation policy and social justice at other restoration projects in wetlands throughout the Great Lakes region.

Authors include: Sarah P Saunders, Joanna X Wu, Elizabeth A Gow, Evan Adams, Brooke L Bateman, Trina Bayard, Stephanie Beilke, Ashley A Dayer, Auriel M V Fournier, Kara Fox, Patricia Heglund, Susannah B Lerman, Nicole L Michel, Eben H Paxton, Çağan H Şekercioğlu, Melanie A Smith, Wayne Thogmartin, Mark S Woodrey, Charles van Riper, III, Bridging the research-implementation gap in avian conservation with translational ecology, Ornithological Applications, 2021

The paper can be found at:

About Audubon Great Lakes
Audubon Great Lakes is a regional office of Audubon, learn more at and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram

The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. Audubon works throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation. State programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners give Audubon an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action. A nonprofit conservation organization since 1905, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive.

How you can help, right now