Field Work Ethics in Biological Research: Viewpoint of Biological Conservation Editors
Biological Conservation recently rejected a paper because we regarded the killing of thousands of vertebrates in a protected area as unnecessary and inappropriate. The authors had the required approvals from the conservation authorities for this work and argued that alternative non-harmful methods, such as camera-traps and baited video, or capture-release methods, would be too time-consuming and expensive because of the species' low population density. Since then, one of us declined to review another paper also on ethical grounds. This second study similarly used indiscriminate methods to kill hundreds of vertebrates in a protected area. In a third case, a paper was rejected because its capture-release data showed high mortality in vertebrates tagged for the study. These papers intended to demonstrate phenomena already known from other studies in different locations. In our opinion, these studies provided poor justification for harming species where the research simply confirmed a well-known phenomenon (e.g., species abundance increases when they are protected) for another location or species. Although the need to recognise the ethical issues of ecological field work has been highlighted more than once previously (e.g., Farnsworth and Rosovsky, 1993 ; Marsh and Kenchington, 2004), it seems they are not being universally addressed.
Costello, M.J., K.H. Beard, R.T. Corlett, G. Cumming, R. Loyola, B. Mea, A.J. Miller-Rushing, R. Pakeman, R.B. Primack. 2016. Field work ethics in biological research: Viewpoint of Biological Conservation editors. Biological Conservation. 203:268-271.