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Top priorities in biodiversity science agreed

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.

On Day 2 of the Planet under Pressure conference in London ( March 27, leaders of the global biodiversity research programme DIVERSITAS described the urgent need to better understand the "5 Ws" -- who, what, where, when and why -- of biodiversity loss, and how humanity might mitigate it.

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.

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."

Says Bob Scholes of South Africa's Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), DIVERSITAS vice-chair and the head of GEO-BON: "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."

"The protection of the fabric of life, that is biodiversity and ecosystems can no longer be considered a luxury, even in the poorer countries; it is essential to maintaining well-being as we know it," says Prof. Sandra Diaz, of Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Cientficas y Tcnicas (CONICET) and Cordoba National University, Argentina.

"DIVERSITAS hopes the challenges highlighted here will be adapted to regional and national priorities worldwide. Our vision is a more sustainable and equitable future, founded on biodiversity and the ecosystem services it provides."

"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.

"Biodiversity loss erodes the capacity of ecosystems to adapt in a changing world. This represents both a serious risk to human wellbeing and a squandering of current assets and future opportunities."

Says Australian expert Mark Lonsdale of CSIRO: "For a biologically-rich and productive planet, individuals need to both act themselves and exercise their political voices."

Contact: Terry Collins

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