Despite the assumption that English is the lingua franca of global science, one-third of new conservation science documents published annually are in non-local languages and as a result some important scientific knowledge remains missing at the international level.
"While we recognise the importance of a lingua franca and the contribution of English to science, the scientific community should not assume that all important information is published in English," said Tatsuya Amano of the University of Cambridge, UK.
Researchers conducted a survey of those in charge of Spain's protected natural areas and they found over half of the respondents identified language as an obstacle to using the latest science for habitat management.
The team surveyed web platform Google Scholar — one of the largest public repositories of scientific documents — in a total of 16 languages for studies relating to bio-diversity conservation published during a single year, 2014.
"Of the over 75,000 documents, including journal articles, books and theses, some 35.6 per cent were not in English," the study found.
The study, published in the journal PLOS Biology, also revealed that only half of non-English documents had titles or abstracts in English, thus making almost 13,000 scientific documents published in 2014 unsearchable using English keywords.
"This can result in sweeps of current scientific knowledge — known as 'systematic reviews' — being biased towards evidence published in English," researchers said.
"This, in turn, may lead to over-representation of results considered positive or 'statistically significant', and these are more likely to appear in English language journals deemed 'high-impact'," they further added.
Some scholars at the University of Cambridge have developed a website "conservationevidence.com", a repository for conservation science, and have also established an international panel to extract the best non-English language papers, including Portuguese, Spanish and Chinese.
The researchers called for publishing basic summaries of a scientific study's key findings in multiple languages, and suggested that universities and funding bodies encourage translations as part of their 'outreach' evaluation criteria.