Field research has traditionally been a fundamental training element for Mammalogists; however social, institutional and bureaucratic changes that have accelerated over the past decade are threatening the ability of Mammalogists to conduct fieldwork and train the next generation.
These changes include the following five threats to Field Mammalogy:
1.The decline in natural history studies in United States Universities: Increased commercialization and for-profit activities have led to a shift from field research to laboratory-based research.
2.The increasing number and complexity of regulations: Bureaucratic regulations present a relatively small, but increasingly complex obstacle to field research.
3.Increased visibility of animal rights groups: Some groups oppose nearly all human interactions with animals, including research that results in a better grasp of the animal’s biology and increases the likelihood of conservation.
4.Our increasing fear of nature: An increasingly risk-averse and litigious society has lead to a barrage of signs and pamphlets providing disclaimers and warning national park visitors about possible risks.
5.Failure to understand risk: Human perception of risk is predominantly emotional, and few people understand risk.
Field researchers in Mammalogy face a variety of barriers to their discipline. While in the classroom, many face an increasing number of students that for a variety of reasons, including a growing preference for indoor “safe” activities for children, are ignorant or afraid of the natural world. Potentially over-protective health and safety regulations promulgated by well-intentioned, but risk-averse, federal and state agencies may be regulating mammal field research out of existence.
Mammalogists must realize that a large and growing number of students today have a much different understanding of nature than previous generations. The apprehensions of nature-adverse students must be approached honestly and directly to educate students without triggering negative responses.
Field Research In Mammalogy: An Enterprise In Peril, Mark S. Hafner, Journal of Mammalogy, Volume 88, Issue 5 (October 2007), pp. 1119–1128