Using expert opinion surveys to rank threats to endangered species: a case study with sea turtles

Conserv Biol. 2010 Dec;24(6):1586-95. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2010.01541.x.


Little is known about how specific anthropogenic hazards affect the biology of organisms. Quantifying the effect of regional hazards is particularly challenging for species such as sea turtles because they are migratory, difficult to study, long lived, and face multiple anthropogenic threats. Expert elicitation, a technique used to synthesize opinions of experts while assessing uncertainty around those views, has been in use for several decades in the social science and risk assessment sectors. We conducted an internet-based survey to quantify expert opinion on the relative magnitude of anthropogenic hazards to sea turtle populations at the regional level. Fisheries bycatch and coastal development were most often ranked as the top hazards to sea turtle species in a geographic region. Nest predation and direct take followed as the second and third greatest threats, respectively. Survey results suggest most experts believe sea turtles are threatened by multiple factors, including substantial at-sea threats such as fisheries bycatch. Resources invested by the sea turtle community, however, appear biased toward terrestrial-based impacts. Results from the survey are useful for conservation planning because they provide estimates of relative impacts of hazards on sea turtles and a measure of consensus on the magnitude of those impacts among researchers and practitioners. Our survey results also revealed patterns of expert bias, which we controlled for in our analysis. Respondents with no experience with respect to a sea turtle species tended to rank hazards affecting that sea turtle species higher than respondents with experience. A more-striking pattern was with hazard-based expertise: the more experience a respondent had with a specific hazard, the higher the respondent scored the impact of that hazard on sea turtle populations. Bias-controlled expert opinion surveys focused on threatened species and their hazards can help guide and expedite species recovery plans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Conservation of Natural Resources*
  • Data Collection / methods
  • Endangered Species*
  • Expert Testimony*
  • Observer Variation
  • Risk Assessment*
  • Turtles*
  • Uncertainty