Political Science, Department of


Date of this Version



Cooke SJ, Michaels S, Nyboer EA, Schiller L, Littlechild DBR, Hanna DEL, et al. (2022) Reconceptualizing conservation. PLOS Sustain Transform 1(5): e0000016. https://doi.org/ 10.1371/journal.pstr.0000016


Copyright: © 2022 Cooke et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License,


Early definitions of conservation focused largely on the end goals of protection or restoration of nature, and the various disciplinary domains that contribute to these ends. Conservation science and practice has evolved beyond being focused on just issues of scarcity and biodiversity decline. To better recognize the inherent links between human behaviour and conservation, “success” in conservation is now being defined in terms that include human rights and needs. We also know that who engages in conservation, and how, dictates the likelihood that conservation science will be embraced and applied to yield conservation gains. Here we present ideas for reconceptualizing conservation. We emphasize the HOW in an attempt to reorient and repurpose the term in ways that better reflect what contemporary conservation is or might aspire to be. To do so, we developed an acrostic using the letters in the term “CONSERVATION” with each serving as an adjective where C = co-produced, O = open, N = nimble, S = solutions-oriented, E = empowering, R = relational, V = values-based, A = actionable, T = transdisciplinary, I = inclusive, O = optimistic, and N = nurturing. For each adjective, we briefly describe our reasoning for its selection and describe how it contributes to our vision of conservation. By reconceptualizing conservation we have the potential to center how we do conservation in ways that are more likely to result in outcomes that benefit biodiversity while also being just, equitable, inclusive, and respectful of diverse rights holders, knowledge holders, and other actors. We hope that this acrostic will be widely adopted in training to help the next generation of conservation researchers and practitioners keep in mind what it will take to make their contributions effective and salient.