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The problem with sharing information on threatened species

There have been concerns that publishing the locations of rare species could make it easier for poachers to find them. But now, a study led by the University of Sydney has found that publishing data is critical to helping many threatened species.

“Species, like Australia’s tiny grassland earless dragon, have received greater environmental protection because published data was available to show that they were in trouble,” said study lead author Dr. Ayesha Tulloch.

“The challenge is to share data in a way that avoids perverse outcomes such as local species extinctions from human exploitation. It is undeniable that in some cases, poachers have used published data to hunt down rare animals for the illegal wildlife trade.”

Dr. Tulloch pointed out that even people like sightseers and birdwatchers can unintentionally do damage to habitats when there is a lot of traffic across them. She explained that this is why scientists and conservationists have continuously urged people to turn off location data in nature photos.

“But stopping all data publishing is not the answer. Data publishing has also led to improved protection and conservation for many species,” said Dr. Tulloch. “Good data helps conservation managers know where action is needed.”

Dr Tulloch said that sharing data takes a balanced approach. To address the issue, she teamed up with scientists from nine organizations to develop a framework that can be used to determine how to share sensitive data.

“A key aspect is identifying whether poaching, illegal trade or disturbance from eager spectators really poses a real threat which can’t be managed.”

“Then there are a number of ways you can deal with that data, such as only showing locations in 100km grid squares, that could allow it to be published without putting those species at risk.”

Dr Tulloch sad that species information will always be shared.

“Being clear about the pros and cons of making the data public will ensure that species are not put in more danger from new data being out in the public domain.”

The research is published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

Image Credit: Nicholas P. Leseberg

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