Ocean Evidence Gap Map (2021-2022)


We are living through an era of rapid social and environmental change, particularly for the world’s oceans. This rate of change is seemingly matched by the generation of information (and misinformation) regarding potential solutions to achieve sustainability changes across scales. 

Evidence synthesis is a powerful tool to draw insights from multiple sources to guide evidence-based decision-making and identify areas where more targeted research is needed. Nonetheless, traditional approaches to synthesize evidence are inadequate to meet the needs of today’s end-users. 

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 

This project will convene a network of synthesis experts and end-users from scientific, philanthropic and implementing organizations to pursue several aims, including to:

  • Assess the efficiency, performance and usability of existing machine learning tools and approaches for evidence synthesis
  • Develop an integrated assemblage of efficient and accessible tools and approaches – known as an evidence pipeline – to support future evidence synthesis research in various sustainability fields
  • Utilize the evidence pipeline to advance the marine conservation evidence base in collaboration with practitioners and policymakers

The project team will identify and prioritize challenges and needs for progressing cost-effective evidence synthesis and potential candidate state-of-the-art solutions. Team members will focus on methods developed by previous teams, identifying ways to facilitate integration of a diverse array of open-source tools and approaches. 

Next, the team will evaluate the efficiency, performance and usability of various candidate tools for improving parts of the synthesis process. The output will be the development of an evidence pipeline to support efficient and robust synthesis from search string development through reporting, to be shared with the broader academic and practitioner community.

Learn more about this project team by viewing the team's video.

Anticipated Outputs

Suite of integrated cost-effective tools and approaches for evidence synthesis; scientific publication; policy briefs and/or website with interactive platform for sharing updated evidence map results

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this project team will include 4 graduate students and 6 undergraduate students with undergraduates majoring in environmental sciences and policy, master’s students in the Coastal Environmental Management stream of the MEM, and Ph.D. students in Marine Science and Conservation. However, any student interested in conservation who is able to evaluate the academic literature is encouraged to apply. 

The team will use online or hybrid meeting formats, so residence at the Marine Lab is not a requirement for participation.

Students will work with Duke faculty and team partners, gaining skills and experience in literature synthesis, science writing, real world conservation science application and collaborative interdisciplinary research. Students will be included throughout multiple stages of the research process, from defining questions to sharing outputs. This deep involvement facilitates vertical linkages among student groups, and opportunities for active learning alongside Duke faculty and experts in other fields and sectors. Specifically, students will receive training on various evidence synthesis approaches, interact with teams of experts in virtual workshops, work on policy-relevant research with conservation practitioners and academics, develop project outputs (e.g., evidence pipeline, publications) and inform NGO policy via outputs such as briefs or a website. 

The full team will meet weekly for one hour to 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 also participate in smaller working groups on particular tasks, allowing for more intensive interaction among faculty, staff and students across undergraduate and graduate groups.

In the optional Summer 2021 component, students will further the work of the 2020-2021 team to provide input into the new team’s research. Interested students can work approximately 8-20 hours per week. Details for the optional Summer 2022 component are TBD.

Morgan Rudd will serve as the project manager. 


Summer 2021 – Summer 2022

  • Summer 2021 (optional): Identify synthesis experts and end-users to participate in working group
  • Fall 2021: Learn about research protocol (new team members); conduct virtual working group meetings with synthesis experts and end-users; evaluate candidate open-source tools and approaches identified by working group
  • Spring 2022: Conduct final set of remote working group meetings with synthesis experts and end-users; develop and test evidence pipeline
  • Summer 2022 (optional): Disseminate research outputs (e.g., evidence pipeline, academic publication, R package, webinars)


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

See earlier related team, Ocean Evidence Gap Map (2020-2021).


Image: Fiji Marine Conservation, by Frontierofficial, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Fiji Marine Conservation.

Team Leaders

  • Lisa Campbell, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation
  • David Gill, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation
  • Morgan Rudd, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • 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