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Worldwide monitoring of biodiversity now within reach

18 January 2013, Biodiversity and Land Use, Alterra, Wageningen UR

A proposal put forward by a group of scientists could bring the worldwide monitoring of changes in biodiversity within reach. It has been published in the journal Science and presented at an international conference in Bonn. Rob Jongman of Alterra Wageningen UR and Carlo Heip of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) collaborated on the proposal.


As yet, there is no unified system of coordinated observations to track changes in biodiversity worldwide. Different scientists tend work in their own ways, and in many regions no monitoring is done at all. An international team of 30 scientists are now calling for a single, harmonised monitoring system that can be applied everywhere. The scientists are cooperating in the ‘Group on Earth Observations – Biodiversity Observation Network’ (GEO BON). They have drawn up a list of 50 essential variables that need to be monitored to get an adequate picture of possible changes in biodiversity

Field observations augmented by satellite images

The list of essential variables can provide guidelines for linking and aligning existing monitoring programmes and for setting up new research projects. Examples of such variables are numbers of endangered species, genetic variation within species and nutrient availability within an ecosystem. For more complete geographical coverage, field observations will need to be augmented by information from satellite images.

Comprehensive monitoring of changes in biodiversity worldwide will be essential to achieve the targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). One of these targets is to half (and preferably to halt) the current rate of deterioration of our natural environment. Yet without good monitoring of biodiversity, any changes in it will go unreported.

Biodiversity and ecosystem services

The proposal will be presented at the first meeting of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), to be held in Bonn, 21-26 January. Henrique M. Pereira, leader of the research group, emphasises the importance of the initiative: ‘The largest gaps in biodiversity monitoring are in developing countries, in regions where pressures on the environment are the greatest. Western countries are the cause of many of these environmental pressures. It is therefore essential to tackle this internationally by setting up a worldwide system.’


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