Marine Conservation Evidence and Synthesis (2023-2024)


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 guide evidence-based decision-making.  

As such, there is a growing need to train the next generation of researchers in appropriate methods and techniques to conduct robust synthesis. Many students conduct some form of synthesis as part of the formative stages of the research process (e.g., literature reviews), yet formal training in the diversity of approaches available for evidence synthesis, and appropriate methods to use to meet established standards is lacking. Students must be exposed to the methods and approaches used in evidence synthesis today, equipping them to be leaders in their field. 

Project Description

Building on the work of previous teams, this project team will develop evidence maps and other products for tropical marine conservation in three stages:

  1. Curriculum development: Develop an online interdisciplinary course to build student capacity in evidence synthesis methods. In this stage, team members will bring together existing evidence synthesis research, methods and training materials developed by experts in the field. 
  2. Team development: Continue to work with a developed transdisciplinary network of evidence synthesis experts and evidence end users from multiple sectors (e.g., public health, conservation, development). This network of experts includes identified partners affiliated with the World Wildlife Fund, the philanthropic sector and others. 
  3. Evidence mapping: Continue the work of refining and developing evidence maps and derivative products in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund. The approach will include evaluating natural and social science research on the nature and strength of linkages between conservation interventions and both natural and social outcomes. Team members will also focus on particular intervention types where significant knowledge gaps exist or are especially relevant to policy, as well as their implications for resilience to anthropogenic climate change.

Anticipated Outputs

Online interdisciplinary evidence synthesis course; scientific publications; interactive website sharing evidence map results

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this project team will include 6 graduate students and 5 undergraduate students who will likely have backgrounds in environmental sciences, policy, coastal management, marine science and conservation. Any student who is interested in evidence synthesis methods and conservation and able to evaluate academic literature on this subject would fit the team well.

Students 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; codevelop project outputs (e.g., publications); and inform practice and policy via outputs such as briefs or a website.

All students will travel to the Duke University Marine Lab in Beaufort, North Carolina for a retreat in September 2023. Students will have the option of continuing project work in the summer.

Dana Grieco will serve as project manager.

In Fall 2023, the team will meet on Wednesdays from 3:00-4:00 p.m. on Zoom.


Summer 2023 – Summer 2024

  • Summer 2023 (optional): Disseminate previous research outputs (Ph.D. lead, select students from previous year’s team); develop and create evidence synthesis course; participate in remote working group meetings with synthesis experts and end users
  • Fall 2023: Participate in September Marine Lab retreat; deliver first half of online course; receive training in research protocol
  • Spring 2024: Deliver second half of online course; supplement review on previous map work; develop website; present and complete focus groups with expert team 
  • Summer 2024 (optional): Continue spring supplemental review; disseminate supplemental data review; enhance website


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

This Team in the News

Meet the Winners of the 2024 Bass Connections Student Research Awards

See earlier related team, Marine Conservation Evidence and Synthesis (2022-2023).


Image: View from boat during President Vincent Price’s visit to Duke Marine Lab, by Jared Lazarus/Duke University

Utila Reef.

Team Leaders

  • David Gill, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation
  • Dana Grieco, Nicholas School of Environment–Marine Science and Conservation–Ph.D. Student

/graduate Team Members

  • Austin Burlile, Masters of Public Policy
  • Curtis Cha, Master of Environmental Management, Coastal Environmental Management, Geospatial Analysis
  • Julia Plasynski, Master of Environmental Management, Ecosystem Science and Conservation

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Claire Hsu, Electrical & Computer Egr(BSE)
  • Bridget Mills
  • Aiden Pasinsky, Biomedical Engineering (BSE)
  • William Trowbridge

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

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

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Samantha Cheng, World Wildlife Fund