Digital technology and the conservation of nature

Koen Arts, René van der Wal, William M Adams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

196 Citations (Scopus)


Digital technology is changing nature conservation in increasingly profound ways. We describe this impact and its significance through the concept of 'digital conservation', which we found to comprise five pivotal dimensions: data on nature, data on people, data integration and analysis, communication and experience, and participatory governance. Examining digital innovation in nature conservation and addressing how its development, implementation and diffusion may be steered, we warn against hypes, techno-fix thinking, good news narratives and unverified assumptions. We identify a need for rigorous evaluation, more comprehensive consideration of social exclusion, frameworks for regulation and increased multi-sector as well as multi-discipline awareness and cooperation. Along the way, digital technology may best be reconceptualised by conservationists from something that is either good or bad, to a dual-faced force in need of guidance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)661-73
Number of pages13
Issue numberSupplement 4
Early online date27 Oct 2015
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2015

Bibliographical note

We warmly thank the participants of the Digital Conservation Conference 21–23 May 2014 in Aberdeen (UK) for stimulating our thinking, as well as Bram Büscher, Guillaume Chapron, Rosaleen Duffy, Gina Maffey, Chris Sandbrook, Audrey Verma and Jeremy Wilson who have helped us directly in the development of this paper. Financial support was received through the award made by the RCUK Digital Economy programme to the dot.rural Digital Economy Hub (EP/G066051/1), through a Digital Economy Sustainable Society Network+ small grant and through the ‘Science without Borders Programme’ funded by CNPq, Brazil (314033/2014-9).


  • Digital conservation
  • Information and Communication Technology (ICT)
  • The Information Age
  • Nature conservation
  • Biodiversity
  • Innovation


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