In our Perspective, we outlined the
increasing threat posed by unrestricted
access to location information for rare and
endangered species. The situation is dire,
and evidence shows that the publication
of location records can put species at risk
[e.g., (1)]. Lowe et al. claim that policies are
in place to keep sensitive species location
data secure. However, despite laudable
efforts (2, 3), such policies have clearly not
translated into effective protection, even in
For example, in Australia, geospatial
location records to within 100 m are readily accessible for one of the nation’s most
threatened reptiles, the Grassland Earless
Dragon [e.g., (4)]. Similarly, accurate location records can easily be found for many
high-profile Australian birds, such as parrots, which are often targeted by poachers
(5, 6). In numerous cases, exact location
data for the most sensitive species—i.e.,
those listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild
Fauna and Flora (CITES)—are available to
anyone through government-funded online
databases as well as nongovernmental
platforms. High-resolution records for the
CITES-listed palm cockatoo, for example, a
species that is known to fetch AUD$100,000
per breeding pair on the black-market (7),
are freely available [e.g., (8, 9)].
We agree with Lowe et al. that open-access information has important scientific
and conservation value, as we acknowledged in our Perspective. We also applaud
the considerable effort and associated policies developed by many data custodians
to protect sensitive species (see examples
provided by Lowe et al.). However, current
policies are ineffective and do not translate
into appropriate on-the-ground protection
of at-risk species. This is clearly demonstrated by the extraordinary ease with
which it is possible to find highly accurate
location data on many rare and threatened
species [e.g. (9)]. Such deficiencies in managing data contribute to reluctance among
researchers to share information containing sensitive records.
Because of deficiencies in current data
protection policies, we reiterate the critical
need for scientists, journal editors, database managers, and policy-makers (who
issue research permits and so can enforce
data publication policies) to carefully
rethink how much species location data
should be readily accessible. Given the current lack of governmental leadership and
clarity on this issue, we recommend author
self-censorship in high-risk situations.
However, all data custodians, especially
INSIGHTS | LETTERS
those who make data available online,
need to urgently implement practices
such as spatial deidentification to ensure
sensitive data are not misused. This must
be done in an integrated, consistent way
so as to not contribute to the demise of
David Lindenmayer,1 Glenn Ehmke,2
1Threatened Species Recovery Hub, National
Environmental Science Program, Fenner School of
Environment and Society, The Australian National
University, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia. 2Research
and Conservation Department, Birdlife Australia,
Melbourne, VIC 3000, Australia.
*Corresponding author. Email: david.lindenmayer@
1. B. L. Stuart, A. G. J. Rhodin, L. L. Grismer, T. Jansel, Science
312, 1137 (2006).
2. A. D. Chapman, O. Grafton, “Guide to best practices for
generalising primary species-occurrence data” (Global
Biodiversity Information Facility, Copenhagen, 2008).
3. J. Tann, P. Flemons, “Atlas of Living Australia: Our secrets
are not your secrets: Sensitive data report” (Atlas of
Living Australia, 2009).
4. NSW Bio Net ( www.bionet.nsw.gov.au/).
5. S. F. Pires, Glob. Crime 13, 176 (2012).
6. E.Alacs, A.Georges, Austral. J. Forensic Sci. 40, 147
7. D. McDowell, Wildlife Crime Policy and the Law: An
Australian Study (Australian Government Publishing
8. Queensland Government, Species profile search (https://
9. eBird ( http://ebird.org).
The customs and culture of indigenous
peoples often reflect a deep knowledge of
local biodiversity that leads to ecologically
responsible behavior (“Beyond the roots of
human inaction: Fostering collective effort
toward ecosystem conservation,” E. Amel
et al., Review, 21 April, p. 275). As a result,
conservationists advocate the engagement
of indigenous peoples in environmental
protection programs (1). However, such
programs often limit the use of fauna and
flora (1, 2) without regard for indigenous
peoples. By interfering with indigenous
peoples’ connection to nature, restrictive policies undermine the people who
could serve as the first line of defense in
conservation (“Biodiversity losses and conservation responses in the Anthropocene,”
C. N. Johnson et al., Review, 21 April, p.
270). Such policies often break the integral
relationships indigenous peoples have with
the environment, such as those held by
the Ma –ori people in New Zealand (3), the
Innu and Inuit in Canada (4), the San in
Botswana (2), the Manggarai in Indonesia
(5), and the Soliga in India (6).
Despite good intentions, protectionist policies can turn local peoples against
conservation and authorities instead of
empowering them to take an active role in
protecting their land (6). By preventing people from using the land according to their
traditions, these policies also lead to the loss
of knowledge that could help future generations respond and adapt to environmental
changes. For example, small-scale fire management by Aboriginal people in Australia
maintains local vegetation diversity by
preventing larger natural fires and creates
opportunities to harvest both flora and
fauna (7). When local people are prohibited
from acting according to their traditions,
community kinship is lost and adherence to
customary norms declines. This may lead
to rogue behavior such as overharvesting
or harvest of the wrong life stages, and to a
tragedy of the commons situation as individuals use resources according to their own
self-interest rather than that of the community (as noted by Amel et al.).
As environmental conditions deteriorate,
conservation policies become stricter, creating a feedback loop in which even temporary restrictions to resource access could
cause irreversible ongoing harm to both
biological and cultural diversity. It is critical,
therefore, that conservation efforts also protect the continuity of indigenous peoples’
relationships with their environments.
Phil O’B. Lyver1 and Jason M. Tylianakis2,3
1Landcare Research, Lincoln 7640, New Zealand.
2School of Biological Sciences, University of
Canterbury, Christchurch 8140, New Zealand.
3Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College
London, Silwood Park Campus, Ascot, Berkshire,
SL5 7PY, UK.