Cook, C.N., Possingham, H.P. & Fuller, R.A. 2013. Contribution of systematic reviews to management decisions. Conservation Biology, 27, 902-915.
Systematic reviews comprehensively summarize evidence about the effectiveness of conservation interventions. We investigated the contribution to management decisions made by this growing body of literature. We identified 43 systematic reviews of conservation evidence, 23 of which drew some concrete conclusions relevant to management. Most reviews addressed conservation interventions relevant to policy decisions; only 35% considered practical on-the-ground management interventions. The majority of reviews covered only a small fraction of the geographic and taxonomic breadth they aimed to address (median = 13% of relevant countries and 16% of relevant taxa). The likelihood that reviews contained at least some implications formanagement tended to increase as geographic coverage increased and to decline as taxonomic breadth increased. These results suggest the breadth of a systematic review requires careful consideration. Reviews identified a mean of 312 relevant primary studies but excluded 88% of these because of deficiencies in design or a failure to meet other inclusion criteria. Reviews summarized on average 284 data sets and 112 years of research activity, yet the likelihood that their results had at least some implications for management did not increase as the amount of primary research summarized increased. In some cases, conclusions were elusive despite the inclusion of hundreds of data sets and years of cumulative research activity. Systematic reviews are an important part of the conservation decision making tool kit, although we believe the benefits of systematic reviews could be significantly enhanced by increasing the number of reviews focused on questions of direct relevance to on-the-ground managers; defining a more focused geographic and taxonomic breadth that better reflects available data; including a broader range of evidence types; and appraising the cost-effectiveness of interventions.