"When biodiversity goals were added to a project, the addition did not reduce that project’s likelihood of meeting its development objectives, including things like gender equity, poverty alleviation and private sector development," Peter Kareiva of The Nature Conservancy told environmentalresearchweb. "However, if a project lacked a conservation goal, its performance with respect to the environment was significantly reduced."

The team used a large random sample of projects, comparing those with a biodiversity or conservation component to those without. In other words, they used a control group – the researchers believe theirs is the first large-scale study of this kind to take this approach. Other analyses, in contrast, have used a case study approach.

"We were inspired to do this because we feel that conservation will not succeed if large populations of poor people have as their only recourse logging forests or clearing land to eke out a living," said Kareiva. "So there needs to be serious attention given to poverty alleviation and conservation at the same time."

The success rate for any of the projects was fairly low, with less than 20% of projects rated as highly satisfactory. The one predictor of highly satisfactory outcomes for projects involving biodiversity was the use of market mechanisms or sustainable finance approaches, say the researchers.

So what does this mean for future development projects? "I believe the lesson is obvious – there is no excuse for pursuing a development project without also including attention to biodiversity concerns," said Kareiva. "No excuse. Nothing is lost by adding a biodiversity concern to a development project. In contrast, we do suffer environmental consequences if biodiversity is not included as part of development projects."

Kareiva believes the next step is to develop conservation and poverty alleviation projects in an explicit experimental manner. "This means collecting information from areas where no intervention or action is taken," he said. "That is going to seem to funders like a waste of money. It is not. Only by being experimental in our efforts will we learn how to be more effective."

The researchers reported their work in Science.