Of the 101 completed survey responses, we categorized respondents into three groups: 53 were conservation practitioners, 42 were academic researchers, and 7 were technologists. Familiarity and experience with conservation technologies varied widely among respondents. 71% of respondents reported being extremely or very familiar with technologies, while 26% reported being moderately familiar. Most respondents had experience using existing technologies for conservation applications (96%), while fewer had tested unproven tools (48%), adapted or modified technologies for their use case (54%), and developed new tools (34%). Among user groups, more conservation practitioners were engaged in the development of new conservation technologies (71%) compared to academic researchers (45%).
In our first question, the technical barriers to use of technologies identified by conservation practitioners and academic researchers were similar, highlighting durability, cost, power efficiency, data management, and real-time transmission (Fig. 1a). However, only cost was identified as likely to prevent the use of a technology in the field (Fig. 1b). Overall, practitioners reported a higher frequency of issues and encountered more problems that prevented use of technology tools in their work compared to academic researchers. Development priorities highly ranked among practitioners and researchers were similar to the major issues identified, being durability, cost, and power efficiency, and we found no differences in rankings between these groups (Fig. 1c). In the limited responses from technologists, we found feature priorities were focused on cost (7/7 respondents included cost in the top 3) and ease of use (4/7). In contrast, durability (2/7 in top 3) and power efficiency (1/7) were not highly ranked among technologists (SM Fig. 1).
In our second question, we recorded 84 unique collaborations ranging from 2 to 15 partners (median of 5 partners). Of the collaborations, 93% involved practitioners, 68% involved academic researchers, and 58% involved technologists. Only 29% of collaborations used websites or forum resources (e.g. wildlabs.net), but 75% of these occurred in a collaboration without a tech expert. Technologists were disproportionately involved in the design stage, while practitioners and researchers were mainly involved in the testing and use phase (SM Fig. 4). Among barriers to collaborations with conservation technology, high cost (53%) was reported most frequently, followed by delayed timelines (41%) and lack of technical support (25%) (SM Fig. 5). In relation to collaboration experiences, lack of partner communication and high cost were the most likely to result in poor collaborations (SM Table 7,8).
In our third question, we identified several strong themes for desired future technologies. Most of the technologies identified were improvements or extensions to existing tools (e.g. mesh network tracking tags, field-ready genetic analysis kits), while some had extremely specific use cases, such as a device to non-invasively collect and protect hair samples for DNA analysis. Automation was mentioned in nearly one third of responses (32/101), with most use cases for automation in reference to animal image processing (53%) and individual-level monitoring (22%) (Fig. 2b). Additionally, researchers were largely focused on automation advancements, while practitioners listed a more diverse set of feature needs (Fig. 2a). For all responses on desired technologies, individual-level monitoring (51%) and animal image processing (28%) were the most-mentioned use cases.