Searching for sustainability: are assessments of wildlife harvests behind the times?


The unsustainable harvest of wildlife is a major threat to global biodiversity and to the millions of people who depend on wildlife for food and income. Past research has called attention to the fact that commonly used methods to evaluate the sustainability of wildlife hunting perform poorly, yet these methods remain in popular use today. Here, we conduct a systematic review of empirical sustainability assessments to quantify the use of sustainability indicators in the scientific literature and highlight associations between analytical methods and their outcomes. We find that indicator type, continent of study, species body mass, taxonomic group and socio-economic status of study site are important predictors of the probability of reported sustainability. The most common measures of sustainability include population growth models, the Robinson & Redford (1991) model and population trends through time. Indicators relying on population-specific biological data are most often used in North America and Europe, while cruder estimates are more often used in Africa, Latin America and Oceania. Our results highlight both the uncertainty and lack of uniformity in sustainability science. Given our urgent need to conserve both wildlife and the food security of rural peoples around the world, improvements in sustainability indicators are of utmost importance.

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