Biodiversity indicators need greater investment
For the world's governments to understand adequately how their actions and policies are impacting the planet's species and ecosystems, more investment is needed in the set of biodiversity indicators that has been developed to measure these impacts. This is the conclusion of a review published today in the journal Science by a group of the leading scientists and organisations, including BirdLife International, working on this issue.
In 2002, the world's leaders adopted a target of significantly reducing the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010. In October next year, the international community will review whether the target has been met, when they convene in Nagoya, Japan for the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD).
The answer lies in a set of 22 biodiversity indicators being developed by over 40 international organisations participating in the 2010 Biodiversity Indicators Partnership. In their article "Tracking progress toward the 2010 biodiversity target and beyond", the authors have assessed the development of these indicators, and found that the set is by no means complete. Five of the headline indicators are not being developed, and only a minority of the datasets used to underpin the other 17 have good global coverage and time series data to detect trends.
"A comprehensive indicator set is vital to hold politicians accountable for their actions, and to advise governments on how best to stop the rapid loss of biodiversity", said Dr Matt Walpole, Head of Ecosystem Assessment Programme at the UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre, and lead author of the paper. "Although we know much more than we ever have about biodiversity loss and its impact on people there are still big gaps in the picture."
"Bird indicators have already made a major contribution to measuring the 2010 target, and will continue to play a vital role in monitoring progress towards conserving biodiversity in the years to come" —Ali Stattersfield, BirdLife
Birds score very highly on many of the broad criteria defined for selecting indicator taxa. Their most significant advantage is that we have, relatively speaking, so much information about them, and their biology and life-histories are so well understood. Birds are also taxonomically well-known and stable, and their populations are readily surveyed and manipulated. Bird families and genera often occupy a breadth of habitats and have broad geographical ranges, yet many individual species are specialised in their requirements and have narrow distributions. Birds are mobile and responsive to environmental changes and there are enough bird species to show meaningful patterns, yet not so many as to make identification itself a challenge. Birds have real economic importance in their own right - a useful attribute in an indicator.
"Bird indicators have already made a major contribution to measuring the 2010 target, and will continue to play a vital role in monitoring progress towards conserving biodiversity in the years to come", said Ali Stattersfield, BirdLife's Head of Science.
Besides highlighting the limited development of indicators, the review also raises questions over whether the current suite of indicators will provide all the right answers. For example, the indicators do not include any measure of the impacts of climate change on biodiversity, and few that shine a light on the benefits, the goods and services, that we gain from biodiversity and natural ecosystems. "Biodiversity monitoring and indicators will only be successful if they help to answer the questions that decision makers are asking", says Robert Höft, Environmental Affairs Officer of the CBD Secretariat.
The CBD meeting next year in Nagoya will see decisions made about future biodiversity targets beyond 2010 and with it the continuation and future development of the indicator set.
The new indicator set is already a hot topic within the biodiversity sector. Seventy experts from governments, non-governmental organisations and universities met in Reading, UK, in July this year to create a list of indicator recommendations for the Nagoya meeting. "We are eagerly anticipating the outcomes of Nagoya. If the right indicator set is chosen, the global community can look to the future with greater optimism for adequate and accurate biodiversity monitoring, an essential component of sustainable development", added Dr Walpole.
Walpole, M. et al. (2009) Tracking Progress Toward the 2010 Biodiversity Target and Beyond. Science 325, 1503-4.
BirdLife comprises more than 100 conservation organisations working together to promote sustainable living as a means to conserve biodiversity.
Credits: UNEP-WCMC, BirdLife