26 Feb 2016

Boost for project to assess global biodiversity

Critically Endangered Cebu flowerpecker only occurs in the Philippines © Tomasz Cofta painting
By Goska Bonnaveira

Assessing the state of biodiversity and the benefits nature provides to people is one of the functions of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), which meets in Malaysia this week.

To achieve this goal, the platform must synthesise large volumes of data from around the globe – including information on species threatened with extinction, important sites for biodiversity, and national parks and nature reserves.

To facilitate this assessment process, scientists have divided information from The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the World Database of Key Biodiversity Areas, and Protected Planet into the four IPBES regions and 17 sub-regions. This effort is the subject of a paper recently published in the journal Nature Scientific Data.

By providing this information in a format that anyone can access and use, this work standardises key data to inform IPBES’ regional assessments, as well as those of other processes such as the United Nations Environment Programme’s Global Environmental Outlook. This will give policy-makers confidence that regional assessments, conducted by different author groups, are comparable to each other. Differences in the state of biodiversity between regions can then be identified, and the causes of those differences investigated in more depth. 

Among the 33,044 species included in the datasets, many are present in multiple countries and regions, complicating the task of attributing a region to each species. For example, while the Critically Endangered Cebu flowerpecker (Dicaeum quadricolor) only occurs in a single country and region, the Vulnerable leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) is present in many.

“Assessing the state of diversity of life on earth is a monumental challenge. Biodiversity varies enormously around the planet, and there are significant gaps in our knowledge,” said IUCN’s Head of Science, Dr Thomas Brooks. “However, with data like these in hand, we know enough to act to safeguard our planet’s biodiversity.”

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The regional information also includes data on more than 200,000 protected areas and 15,000 key biodiversity areas.

“These sites contribute significantly to the global persistence of biodiversity, and should be managed in ways that allow maintenance of this biodiversity”.  Dr Stuart Butchart, Head of Science at BirdLife International

Dr Neil Burgess, UNEP-WCMC’s Head of Science, added: “As well as assessing the current state of biodiversity and ecosystem services, these data will be hugely important in allowing the development of future scenarios of life on earth using modelling techniques.”

IPBES aims to produce such projections, similarly to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which has dramatically improved understanding and collective action to address the challenge of human-caused climate change. IPBES, however, is fundamentally different to the IPCC, in that it is also meant to provide support to knowledge generation, policy, and capacity building.

The Nature Scientific Data paper was produced through a collaboration between IUCN, BirdLife International, UNEP-WCMC, Stony Brook University, the American Bird Conservancy, The Biodiversity Consultancy, Centre d'Écologie Fonctionnelle et Évolutive, Sapienza – Università di Roma, and NatureServe.

It used data from The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the World Database of Key Biodiversity Areas (including Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas and Alliance for Zero Extinction sites), and Protected Planet (powered by the World Database of Protected Areas).

See here for more details of the meeting which continues until Sunday, 28 February.