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Going beyond English Is Critical for Conservation

In global biodiversity assessments, non-English literature is mostly neglected

by University of Queensland
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Research in languages other than English is critically important for biodiversity conservation and is shockingly under-utilized internationally, according to an international research team.

Dr. Tatsuya Amano, from The University of Queensland’s School of Biological Sciences, led a worldwide study that investigated national reports on biodiversity conservation in 37 countries and territories where English is not an official language.

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“Non-English-language literature is almost entirely neglected in global biodiversity assessments,” Amano said.

“This means there’s a serious risk that the world’s existing global assessments overlook important conservation science by ignoring non-English-language literature.

“For example, in the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) reports, only 3.4 percent of references are those published in non-English languages—a shockingly low figure.

The team found that non-English-language literature was extensively used in the national reports of most individual countries, but had failed to be reflected in global reports.

Amano said, despite the benefits of a common language, having diversity of input was essential to saving the world’s species.

“English has been used as the common language of science for decades and this makes international communication much easier,” he said.

“But so much research in the biodiversity conservation space is still being published in other languages too. Ignoring it could be a big issue, as we often don’t know much about what to conserve and how to conserve it.”

The team suggest that further international collaboration is essential to developing more effective conservation science, and therefore more effective policy interventions.

“Our research project is a great example of how cross-language, international collaborations can lead to better scientific outcomes,” Amano said.

“We’ve collaborated with over 100 people, who are collectively native speakers of about 20 languages, to identify important science available only in non-English languages. The use of machine translation tools would also help solve this problem more broadly, but it still would require validation by human native speakers. And developing multilingual databases of relevant literature is also effective, just like we did in a recent paper, in collaboration with the Conservation Evidence project. With these approaches, the world would be able to use the best scientific knowledge available, regardless of the language in which it is published.”

- This press release was originally published on the University of Queensland website