Biodiversity scientists agree on top priorities

View of a tortoise walking accross the ground.


The benefits people obtain from biodiversity accrue not only in the present, but in the unknowable future. This is the option value of preserving diversity." So said Bob Scholes of South Africa's Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), and DIVERSITAS vice-chair. Diversitas is a global biodiversity research programme with a dual mission:

  • To promote an integrative biodiversity science, linking biological, ecological and social disciplines in an effort to produce socially relevant new knowledge;
  • To provide the scientific basis for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

Scholes joined his colleagues at the Planet under Pressure conference in London on March 27 where leaders of DIVERSITAS described the urgent need to better understand biodiversity loss, and how humanity might mitigate it.

Concluding a four-year global consultation, international experts have agreed on key efforts needed to reduce the on-going loss of biodiversity and associated ecosystem services.

Human well-being depends on ecosystems like forests and coral reefs continuing to provide "ecosystem services" including food, pollution treatment and climate regulation, scientists say.

Many ecosystems "are underpinned by biodiversity," the losses of which "severely undermine the delivery of these ecosystem services."

The top priorities:

Creating criteria to identify, monitor, and report the most urgent cases of biodiversity and ecosystem service loss and how humanity can avoid or mitigate the problems. Researchers today lack a framework to identify the most serious cases of biodiversity loss, what's causing them, critical tipping points, the people most at risk, and potential interventions - including how to adapt to a fait accompli in some situations.

Improving human efforts to defend biodiversity and ecosystem services in the midst of global change, while recognizing resource scarcity and competing demands. This includes accountable governance and management systems well informed of the trade-offs involved in decisions, studying how humanity in the past maintained biodiversity in the face of environmental and social changes, and promoting individual human behaviour to mitigate and adapt to biodiversity and ecosystem service losses.

Understanding the factors underpinning the patterns, origins, functions and changes in biodiversity. This includes understanding biophysical processes and ecological features critical to specific ecosystem services, and how scientists should quantify ecosystem services in order to fully understand trade-offs?

Creating an effective global network of biodiversity science. This requires national scientific networks in every world region (with a particular emphasis on mega-diverse countries), gender balance, young scientists, incorporation of indigenous and local knowledge, and participants from all relevant interdisciplinary fields (including social as well as natural sciences).

The priorities constitute a new framework for the work of DIVERSITAS, which was established to help spearhead and coordinate global biodiversity-related research efforts. Elaboration is provided in a recent paper (available to media on request) in the peer-reviewed journal "Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability."

DIVERSITAS was instrumental in establishing the new Global Earth Observation-Biodiversity Observation Network (GEO-BON), and an assessment mechanism called the Intergovernmental science-policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), through which biodiversity scientists can authoritatively inform and advise governments with one voice. Scholes is head of GEO-BON.

Both are important new mechanisms and DIVERSITAS "must now become their strategic scientific partner," says Anne Larigauderie, Executive Director of the organization.

"Historically, biodiversity conservation has been justified on ethical and aesthetic grounds.

However, preserving biodiversity is in humanity's most profound self-interest," she adds.

"Societies everywhere can expect severe human health and other economic costs if the predicted losses of biodiversity-supported ecosystem services are realized."

"The fabric out of which the Earth system is woven is unravelling at an accelerating rate," says Prof. Georgina Mace of the Imperial College London.



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