Conservation science and the ethos of restraint

Evelyn Brister, J. Britt Holbrook, Megan J. Palmer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Despite aiming to make conservation science and practice more effective, many conservationists default to excessive precaution, advocating conservative actions—or even inaction. The field suffers from an understandable aversion to unintended consequences, especially for approaches involving biotechnology and “next-generation” interventions. We call this default precautionary attitude among conservationists the ethos of restraint and argue for replacing it with an ethos of responsible conservation action. Loosening the ethos of restraint will require (a) more holistically accounting for comparative risks, benefits, and costs of novel approaches; (b) gathering more data on their consequences; (c) engaging in dialogue about intended consequences and conservation values; and (d) pursuing adaptive implementation strategies. Adopting an ethos of responsible conservation action requires grasping that precaution and proaction are not diametrically opposed attitudes. Instead, we must decide what level of precaution or proaction is warranted, and what to do, on a case-by-case basis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere381
JournalConservation Science and Practice
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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