Current projects

Solving the Mystery of MPA Performance: Linking governance, biodiversity conservation, & poverty alleviation

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are an integral component of local, national, and international strategies for biodiversity conservation.  Proponents tout MPAs as a win-win strategy for conservation and poverty alleviation, while skeptics argue that MPAs place the welfare of fish above the well-being of impoverished fishing communities. Because scientists have not yet developed a convincing explanation for variations in MPA performance, decisionmakers set marine resource policy in ignorance, not knowing whether their choices will benefit people, the environment, or both.

To address this challenge, we are leading a unique initiative to document MPA social impacts in the Bird’s Head Seascape of Papua, Indonesia.  Our scientific consortium is monitoring changes in economic well-being, health, political empowerment, education, and culture in 112 settlements across the Seascape.  Our findings and methods are transforming marine resource management in Indonesia and around the globe.  See


Protected area downgrading, downsizing, & degazettement (PADDD): patterns, trends, causes, & consequences

Conventional wisdom assumes that national parks and other protected areas are permanent fixtures on the landscape, but our recent research demonstrates widespread protected area downgrading, downsizing and degazettement (PADDD) -- legal processes whereby protected areas see their regulations tempered, boundaries shrink, or lose all legal protections.   Since 1900, more than 2,000 PADDD events have affected 2,500,000+ sq km of protected lands and waters globally.  Another 1,600 instances of PADDD are currently proposed around the world.  In theory, PADDD can advance conservation goals through improved allocation of conservation resources, but evidence suggests that PADDD is primarily associated with social and economic activities that undermine conservation objectives.  To ensure that PAs fulfill their promise, further research is essential to understand PADDD risk, impacts, and policy implications.

Our team is leading the effort to document and understand PADDD.  Together with partners around the globe, we are empowering decisionmakers to set priorities more strategically, allocate resources more efficiently, and manage biodiversity more adaptively.  See


Conservation Social Science: Understanding People and the Conservation of Biodiversity

The social sciences are central to conservation science and practice. Each social science discipline has analytic lenses and established knowledge that can provide insights vital to the success of local, national, and international conservation efforts.  Moreover, biodiversity conservation is a ubiquitous social phenomenon that merits research for its broader insights into society. 

In the 1980s, scholars consolidated several diverse lines of biological inquiry with a textbook -- and launched the field of conservation biology.  Today, we are spearheading a parallel effort on behalf of the social sciences, entitled Conservation Social Science: Understanding People and the Conservation of Biodiversity.  We seek to transform the prevailing conservation paradigm.


Conservation tipping points: Catalyzing conservation at scale

Despite billions of dollars invested, “getting to scale” remains a fundamental conservation challenge.  Effective community-based projects often struggle to deliver national-scale results, while an “implementation gap” frequently exists between regional plans and local action.  Occasionally, however, a conservation intervention will experience rapid, widespread adoption and implementation (i.e., diffusion) that transforms the relationship between people and nature across large areas.  Understanding why an intervention "goes viral" is essential to evidence-based conservation policy.

Social science theories of innovation diffusion examine spatial patterns and temporal trends in the adoption and implementation of innovations (novel ideas, technologies, policies, etc.).  Our research team is examining the diffusion of conservation innovations in Fiji, Namibia, Tanzania, and elsewhere around the world.  Social scientific insights into the diffusion of conservation interventions will empower donors and practitioners to catalyze conservation at scale – and to do so at less cost, with more durable results, and with more socially just outcomes.