Marine Conservation Evidence and Synthesis (2022-2023)


In the rapidly developing field of ocean science and conservation, evidence synthesis and gap maps can provide informed and data-based direction for government, scientific and philanthropic organizations as they decide how to invest limited resources in particular programs and policy interventions. In this era of rapid social and environmental change for the world’s oceans, evidence synthesis is a powerful tool to draw insights from multiple sources to help guide evidence-based decision-making.  

Evidence synthesis research is usually discipline-specific as well as time- and resource-intensive, and it involves software that is inaccessible to many. Over the last few years, researchers have increasingly used machine learning and a broad mix of proprietary and open-source applications for evidence synthesis. Yet many of these tools are developed in silos with little effort to integrate approaches, and they still require considerable time, expertise and resources to implement. 

To support ocean conservation science and practice, there is a need for resource-efficient synthesis approaches that are accurate, accessible and reproducible.

Project Description

Building on the work of previous teams, this project team will refine and develop evidence maps and related products in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund and the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History. 

Team members will conduct evidence mapping and reviews, evaluating what natural and social science research reveals about the nature of linkages between conservation interventions (such as catch limits and restoration) and both natural and social outcomes (fish abundance, ecosystem health and resilience; income and well-being). The team will also assess the strength of the evidence supporting these linkages, and focus on particular intervention types where significant knowledge gaps exists or are particularly relevant to policy. These could include fisheries and food security outcomes from conservation.

Anticipated Outputs

Scientific publication; website with interactive platform for sharing updated evidence map results

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this project team will include 6 graduate students and 5 undergraduate students who are studying coastal environmental management, marine science and conservation, and/or environmental sciences and policy. However, any student interested in conservation who is able to evaluate the academic literature is encouraged to apply. 

Students will gain skills and experience in evidence synthesis, science writing, real-world conservation science application, and collaborative multi-institutional, interdisciplinary research. They will be involved throughout multiple stages of the research process, from defining questions to sharing outputs. 

Team members will receive training on various evidence synthesis approaches (e.g., review, meta-analysis); interact with teams of experts in virtual seminars; work on policy-relevant research with conservation practitioners and academics; co-develop project outputs (e.g., publications); and help inform policy via outputs such as briefs or websites.

The full team will meet weekly for one hour. In Fall 2022, team meetings will likely be on Wednesdays from 3:00-4:00 p.m. During these meetings, the team will review approaches to and methods for synthesizing literature. The team will also participate in virtual workshops and in-depth discussions with experts and practitioners about emerging challenges and solutions for synthesis research and application. Students will participate in smaller working groups on particular tasks, allowing for more intensive interaction among faculty, staff and students across undergraduate and graduate groups.

Students will visit the Duke Marine Lab for a team retreat in the fall and/or spring. Students who are interested in the optional summer components can work for approximately 8-20 hours per week.

Dana Grieco will serve as the project manager. 


Summer 2022 – Summer 2023

  • Summer 2022 (optional): Finish additional update screenings for the Ocean Evidence Gap Map; analyze data and submit for publication; develop evidence synthesis online course; take part in remote working group meetings with synthesis experts and end-users for feedback on online course curriculum
  • Fall 2022: Learn about research protocol 
  • Spring 2023: Review previous gap map work; develop website; disseminate research outputs; create end-of-year presentations; conduct focus group with expert team 
  • Summer 2023 (optional): Continue spring supplemental review; disseminate supplemental data review; enhance website


Academic credit available for fall and spring semesters; summer funding available

See earlier related team, Ocean Evidence Gap Map (2021-2022).


Image: Madagascar Marine Conservation, by Frontierofficial/Natalie Sangster, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Boat on the water.

Team Leaders

  • David Gill, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation

/graduate Team Members

  • Dana Grieco, Marine Sci & Conservation-PHD

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Lisa Campbell, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation
  • Brian Silliman, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Gabby Ahmadia, World Wildlife Fund-US
  • Samantha Cheng, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History