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To save biodiversity, government agencies and local groups must set conservation research agendas, argue Robert J. Smith and colleagues.

Much biodiversity research contributes little to local conservation efforts, say the authors. Academics focus on 'pet interests' and making an impact in scientific literature, but take little notice of local needs or how conservation plans will be implemented.

Nongovernmental organisations similarly fail to prioritise local issues, add the authors. Instead they often fund 'quick and dirty' projects that neither engage local agencies effectively, nor receive long-term local support.

Conservation scientists need a radical rethink to involve local agencies and groups in setting research agendas and developing implementation strategies, say the authors. South Africa uses this approach to conserve biodiversity and manage protected areas in KwaZulu-Natal.

Countries with weaker local institutions will need help if they are to follow South Africa's lead. Establishing 'social-learning institutions' — where local and international stakeholders share skills and knowledge — could help train conservation professionals and create research agendas to meet local needs.

Donors need to fund and collaborate with local organisations directly. And academics must work with local groups or their research may never be usefully applied.

Link to full article in Nature