Ocean Evidence Gap Map (2018-2019)


Evidence gap maps are emerging as conservation tools that synthesize existing scientific research in a creative way, in order to guide evidence-based decision-making and identify areas where more targeted research is needed. Gap maps also help identify studies that suggest linkages between particular interventions and outcomes (e.g., ecological, social) and can help identify and characterize contexts for understanding tradeoffs and synergies in conservation decision-making.

In the rapidly developing field of ocean science and conservation, evidence gap maps can provide informed and data-based direction for scientific, philanthropic, government and nongovernment organizations as they decide how to invest limited resources. 

Project Description

In collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund, this Bass Connections project will develop an ocean evidence gap map, with a subset of evidence gap maps on coral reefs, mangroves and seagrasses. The project’s interdisciplinary approach will use natural and social science research to examine potential linkages between intervention (e.g., take limits, restoration) and both natural (e.g., fish abundance, ecosystem health and resilience) and social outcomes (e.g., income, well-being, degree of cooperative interactions).

The project team will also assess implications of the results of the ocean evidence gap map for World Wildlife Fund investments in ocean conservation and for research directions by Duke faculty and students.

Brian Silliman’s marine ecology course, ENVIRON 273LA, will act as a platform to launch this collaboration. Enrollment is not required, although it is encouraged. A full team kick-off workshop in Fall 2018 will provide an introduction and begin the work. The team will review approaches to and methods for synthesizing literature, including gap maps; collaboratively develop the search terms and choose categorization of interventions and outcomes; and review WWF interventions in the three focal habitats of coral reefs, mangroves and seagrasses. Habitat work groups will do most of the active work of gap mapping in each of the three habitats. Team members will receive training on evidence synthesis and learn how to use new technologies employing machine learning (Colandr) to aid in the process. A wrap-up workshop will be held in Spring 2019 in Washington, DC.

Anticipated Outcomes

Academic publications; ocean evidence gap map hosted on appropriate online interactive platform; master’s projects for 1-3 CEM students, focusing on policy implications for WWF’s current and future investments; foundation for targeted research grants that address gaps in conservation science and/or further work on more systematic reviews; direct guidance to WWF on areas where new science is needed to inform ocean conservation; proposal for future Duke undergraduate research, master’s projects and possible doctoral dissertation research

Student Opportunities

Students will be active participants throughout the research process, from the kick-off meeting where the team will collaboratively refine elements of the study in order to develop a work plan, to the wrap-up meeting where the team will present findings to World Wildlife Fund staff.

Students will work on policy research and interact with WWF staff; inform WWF policy; receive training on a specific type of evidence synthesis and learn how to use new technologies employing machine learning; and contribute to conceptual development of an online platform and to manuscript writing.

The ideal composition of the team will include 3 Ph.D. students, 3 CEM students and 6 undergraduate students. One CEM student will be hired as project manager, beginning in Summer 2018. One Ph.D. student will be hired to lead production of a synthesis manuscript in Spring/Summer 2019.

Evaluation will include grades for participation and completion of discrete research tasks toward producing draft gap maps by the end of the fall semester. In the spring, undergraduate students can continue to participate as paid research assistants; some may wish to enroll instead for credit in a seminar or independent study. CEM students can continue to participate as paid research assistants. CEMs working on the policy brief as their master’s project will instead enroll for MP credit hours. One of the Ph.D. students will be identified as the RA on the project and play a critical role in producing the synthesis manuscript; thus, s/he will be supported as a full-time RA for summer and spring. The other Ph.D. students can continue to participate as paid (hourly) research assistants.

Duke undergraduates and graduate students can apply for this project team beginning on January 24. The priority deadline is February 16 at 5:00 p.m.


Summer 2018 – Summer 2019

  • Summer 2018: Project organization/preparation (project manager; Duke faculty; WWF staff) and research WWF policies and programs (project manager)
  • Fall 2018: Kick-off meeting; Marine Ecology class, recommended; weekly meetings, alternating full team and habitat working groups, to conduct evidence gap analysis
  • Spring 2019: Alternating full team and habitat working group meetings, to finalize gap maps and incorporate them into online platform; overview manuscript; habitat-specific manuscripts; WWF policy brief (master’s project); wrap-up workshop, presentation of results to WWF staff
  • Summer 2019: Finalize outputs (synthesis manuscript coordinator; Duke faculty; WWF staff; others as available)


Independent study credit available for fall and spring semesters; summer funding

Marine Ecology (ENVIRON 273LA) is a pre- or co-requisite, but substitutions can be accepted at the discretion of the instructor. Ideally, students will be in residence at the Marine Lab for Fall 2018, although this is not required.

Faculty/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*

Community Team Members

Gabby Ahmadia, World Wildlife Fund-US*
Samantha Cheng, Arizona State University
Linwood Pendleton, World Wildlife Fund-Global

* denotes team leader


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