Ethical considerations when conservation research involves people

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  • Steph Brittain
    University of OxfordZoological Society of London
  • Harriet Ibbett
    University of Oxford
  • Emiel de Lange
    University of Edinburgh
  • Leejiah Dorward
    University of Oxford
  • Simon Hoyte
    University College London
  • Agnese Marino
    University College LondonZoological Society of London
  • EJ Milner-Gulland
    University of Oxford
  • Julia Newth
    Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, Slimbridge, GloucestershireUniversity of Exeter
  • Sarobidy Rakotonarivo
    University of Stirling
  • Diogo Verissimo
    University of OxfordSan Diego Zoo Global
  • Jerome Lewis
    University College London
Social science is becoming increasingly important in conservation, with more studies involving methodologies that collect data from and about people. Conservation science is a normative and applied discipline designed to support and inform management and practice. Poor research practice risks harming participants, researchers, and can leave negative legacies. Often, those at the forefront of field‐based research are early‐career researchers, many of whom enter their first research experience ill‐prepared for the ethical conundrums they may face. Here, we draw on our own experiences as early‐career researchers to illuminate how ethical challenges arise during conservation research that involves human participants. Specifically, we discuss ethical review procedures, conflicts of values, and power relations, and provide broad recommendations on how to navigate ethical challenges when they arise during research. We encourage greater engagement with ethical review processes and highlight the pressing need to develop ethical guidelines for conservation research that involves human participants.


  • institutional review boards, power dynamics, values, legacy, social science, reflexivity, fieldwork
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)925-933
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number4
Early online date18 Jan 2020
Publication statusPublished - 31 Aug 2020

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