Human Dimensions of Bat Conservation – 10 recommendations to improve and diversify studies of human-bat interactions

December 17, 2021

As with any species, human-bat interactions can range from positive to neutral to negative. For some, the spectacle of a cloud of bats darkening the sky as they emerge from their roost can bring awe and joy. For others, bats in their roof might be a nuisance, and bats in an orchard can bring real and substantial economic costs. The suspected bat origins of Sars-COV-2 have only served to heighten these negative sentiments around bats, raising the awareness of the link between bats and a host of zoonotic diseases. Bats have long been among the most widely maligned and misunderstood animals and the rapid conversion of natural habitats increasingly bring them into contact with people. Understanding people and their relationship with bats will become ever more important if we are to mitigate negative impacts on humans while balancing the need to protect bats and their habitats.  

However, despite the importance of human research in conservation, many of the people working in this field have an academic grounding in the natural sciences with little social science training. While this work is often well intentioned, it has also led to criticisms that even where it does exist, at least some conservation social science is lacking theoretical foundations and methodological rigour. To test this, and to understand more about research into the human dimensions of bat conservation, we conducted a review of the academic literature.  

In total, we examined 68 papers in detail and extracted data relating to the authorship, the underlying conceptual foundations of the paper, the adherence to social science best practices, and the quality of the recommendations provided. Based on our review, we suggest ten recommendations that we hope can inspire further research in this field and other areas of inter-/multidisciplinary research (Fig. 1). These ten recommendations are separated in two groups: to ground the research and directions in which this research field could further expand. 

Critical among the recommendations to ground the research in best practice are our recommendations to reach out and collaborate with social scientists from the very start, and to ground the research in existing social science literature and conceptual frameworks. Among the papers we reviewed, studies conducted predominantly by natural scientists, performed far worse than those conducted by social scientists.  However one surprising result was that multidisciplinary teams comprising BOTH social and natural scientists performed little better than natural scientists alone.  We do not take this to be a failure of multi or trans disciplinary research per se, but rather as an important lesson that high quality research across disciplines is difficult. Too often social scientists are either brought on board late in the process or only play a minor role in the project’s development and this can lead to studies with suboptimal methodological approaches, or that simply skim over large bodies of existing literature. 

There is increasing recognition that almost all conservation problems involve at least some human dimension and while we never want to lose the underlying biology and ecology that underpins so much valuable conservation work, we also hope that conservationists continue to engage effectively with the social sciences and that this article will offer some useful insights into that process whether you work on bats, bear or butterflies.  

Tanja M. Straka, Joanna Coleman, Ewan A. Macdonald & Tigga Kingston 

  • Ten recommendations for future research in human dimensions of bat conservation separated in two groups (roots and branches). Roots represent recommendations to root the field more firmly in best practices in conservation social sciences and branches represent the direction intended to prioritize future research in this field (from Straka, T. M., Coleman, J., Macdonald, E. A., & Kingston, T. (2021). Human dimensions of bat conservation–10 recommendations to improve and diversify studies of human-bat interactions. Biological Conservation, 262, 109304).