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Assessing the interdisciplinary approach in lion conservation

lion conservation interdisciplinary research

Lions have seen a substantial population decline over recent decades. One of the main reasons for this decline comprises conflict with humans — primarily triggered by livestock depredation. There is recognition that in order to effectively address human-lion conflicts, an interdisciplinary approach is necessary. But how inclusive has conflict research been up to now?…

In a recent study, Montgomery et al. (2018), undertook a literature review and found 88 papers, published between 1990 and 2015, that assessed human-lion interaction. Following the literature review, the study assessed the expertise of the co-authors of these research papers in order to determine the level of interdisciplinary collaboration. The results of this were then addressed in terms of the actual requirements of conflict resolution, to determine whether a broader interdisciplinary approach would be beneficial in addressing lion conservation.

Once common across all of Africa, as well as areas of Europe and Asia, lions are now restricted to fragmented populations in sub-Saharan Africa, in addition to one isolated population in west India (Riggio et al., 2013; Henschel et al., 2014; Meena et al., 2014; Bauer et al., 2015). Lions currently occur in 8% of their historic range and have experienced an estimated 43% population reduction in the past 20 years (Bauer et al., 2015). Predictions are that these animals face the very real threat of extinction within the next 50 years if current trends are not halted and reversed. The reasons behind the population decline include habitat loss, climate change, hunting, disease, and human conflict (Loveridge et al., 2016; Macdonald, 2016).

Threats to human security and competition for resources can promote human-carnivore conflict (Millspaugh et al., 2015) with implications for carnivore conservation and human well-being. Conflict often centres around competition over wild and domestic prey species. The current range of the lion within developing countries often means that the humans living in these areas are particularly dependent on livestock. It is therefore imperative that a resolution to this type of conflict is sought.

Conflict is difficult to resolve due to its complex nature. Five dimensions of conflict have been identified:

1) The carnivore dimension.
2) The livestock dimension.
3) The wild prey dimension.
4) The human dimension.
5) The environmental dimension.

This complexity has led to researchers recognising that a multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary approach is needed. The authors define the two approaches as follows:

  • Multidisciplinary research incorporates scholars and methods from multiple disciplines to study a problem or system, but the different disciplinary perspectives remain largely distinct; moreover, one discipline typically dominates the others (Eigenbrode et al., 2007; Miller et al., 2008).
  • Interdisciplinary research incorporates deeper integration between different perspectives, such that investigators develop greater appreciation for each other’s methodological approaches and sometimes develop new questions and methods (Eigenbrode et al., 2007; Miller et al., 2008).

The literature review revealed that studies into human-lion conflict grew dramatically from 1990 to 2015. Within this period, the highest increase was seen between 2013 and 2015 (an average of 13.3 papers addressing human-lion conflict were published annually). Lion populations were seen to decline by almost half between 1990 and 2015 (Bauer et al., 2015). However, across that same period, the number of co-authors engaged in human-lion conflict research was found to change very little.

The dimension that was most commonly evaluated was the human dimension. The lion dimension was next, followed by the environmental dimension, and then the livestock dimension. The dimension that was least likely to be assessed was the wild prey dimension. The vast majority of these papers evaluated only one or two of the human-lion conflict dimensions at a time. No paper assessed all five dimensions of human-lion conflict concurrently. Within each dimension, the exact research technique also varied.

Co-authors of the reviewed papers were derived from nine disciplinary categories. Three disciplines (biology/ecology/zoology, wildlife management/conservation, and environmental science) had the largest relative size. Comparatively, social-science and humanities-based disciplines were underrepresented. Researchers from academic institutions were the most common co-authors of human-lion conflict research, occurring in 86.0%.

Montgomery et al., suggest that more robust incorporation of experts from political science and policy, and adaptive co-management among teams of interdisciplinary researchers and human communities, will be necessary to position conservation efforts into practice. Importantly, discussions need to be informed not only by insights from STEM fields but also by perspectives from the humanities and social sciences (e.g., human perceptions, behaviours, ethics, historic cultures and practices, future goals, and governance structures).

Despite the most commonly-evaluated dimension in human-lion conflict research being the human dimension, specialists in the social sciences and humanities fields are not being adequately represented in these discussions. Montgomery et al. state that given the obvious importance of human dimensions in human-lion conflict research, the low levels of integration of co-authors from fields such as philosophy, anthropology, and social science is troubling. Without an interdisciplinary approach, robust solutions for human-lion conflict will continue to be elusive.


Open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) – © 2018 Montgomery, Elliott, Hayward, Gray, Millspaugh, Riley, Kissui, Kramer, Moll, Mudumba, Tans, Muneza, Abade, Beck, Hoffmann, Booher and Macdonald. 

About the Author: Kate Priestman (CEnv, MCIEEM), Co-Founder and Editor of Inside Ecology, has over sixteen years experience as an ecologist.  Prior to setting up her own consultancy business in 2012, Kate worked in London for over a decade, providing the lead ecology role for a number of high profile projects.  In addition to running Inside Ecology, Kate works as a freelance writerauthor and artist.

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