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201627Apr19:59

Bet­ter data needed to stop sixth mass extinction

Infor­ma­tion
pub­lished 27 April 2016 | mod­i­fied 27 April 2016
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Call for bet­ter data as study reveals just 5 per­cent of datasets meet a ‘gold stan­dard’ needed for effec­tive bio­di­ver­sity conservation.

To pre­vent a new mass extinc­tion of the world’s ani­mal and plant life, we need to under­stand the threats to bio­di­ver­sity, where they occur and how quickly change is hap­pen­ing. For this to hap­pen, we need reli­able and acces­si­ble data. A new study pub­lished on 22 April in Sci­ence reveals those data are largely miss­ing. We are lack­ing key infor­ma­tion on impor­tant threats to bio­di­ver­sity such as inva­sive species, log­ging, bush meat har­vest­ing, and ille­gal wildlife trade.

Over the past two years a con­sor­tium of 18 orga­ni­za­tions, includ­ing UNEP-​WCMC, the Inter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Nature, the Luc Hoff­mann Insti­tute, a research hub at WWF Inter­na­tional, and BirdLife Inter­na­tional, com­piled avail­able global data on bio­di­ver­sity threats. They reviewed almost 300 data sets and marked them on five attrib­utes required for con­ser­va­tion assess­ments. Datasets should be freely avail­able, up to date, repeated, at appro­pri­ate spa­tial res­o­lu­tion, and val­i­dated for accu­racy. Only 5% of the datasets sat­is­fied all attributes.

We live in the age of Big Data, but are effec­tively fly­ing blind when it comes to under­stand­ing what is threat­en­ing bio­di­ver­sity around the world
Lucas Joppa, lead author, and leads envi­ron­men­tal research at Microsoft »

We were sur­prised that so few datasets met all of the five attrib­utes we believe are required for ‘gold stan­dard’ of data,” added Lucas Joppa.

This analy­sis can help pio­neer a new approach to map­ping and mea­sur­ing the threats fac­ing endan­gered species and ecosys­tems,” says Jon Hut­ton, Direc­tor of the Luc Hoff­mann Insti­tute. “This is crit­i­cal if we are to under­stand why some pop­u­la­tions of, for exam­ple, tigers or ele­phants are doing bet­ter than others.”

In some cases, the data needed for effec­tive con­ser­va­tion pol­icy already exists but are not acces­si­ble due to asso­ci­ated costs, com­mer­cial con­sid­er­a­tions or intel­lec­tual prop­erty arrange­ments. “Agree­ments between con­ser­va­tion orga­ni­za­tions and pri­vate com­pa­nies can help address this,” says Brian O’Connor, Pro­gramme Offi­cer for UNEP-WCMC’s Sci­ence Pro­gramme. “For exam­ple, an agree­ment between UNEP-​WCMC and IHS Com­pany pro­vides detailed and com­pre­hen­sive data on oil and gas activ­ity world­wide for use in bio­di­ver­sity assessments.”

Gov­ern­ments are another valu­able future source of infor­ma­tion. “Open Gov­ern­ment Ini­tia­tives such as those in the UK and US have made more than 200,000 datasets freely avail­able, includ­ing sev­eral that are rel­e­vant to envi­ron­men­tal con­ser­va­tion,” says Piero Vis­conti, Post­doc­toral Sci­en­tist at UNEP-​WCMC. “We encour­age more ini­tia­tives of this kind.”

This work has already started to have an impact on con­ser­va­tion. “We are work­ing with TRAF­FIC and UNEP to analyse legal and ille­gal wildlife trade to address one of the crit­i­cal knowl­edge gaps we iden­ti­fied in this study,” con­cludes Neil Burgess, Head of Sci­ence at UNEP-​WCMC.

The authors of the study stress that fill­ing these data gaps need not start from scratch. Sev­eral exist­ing datasets, such as those deal­ing with inva­sive species on islands around the world, can be scaled up if appro­pri­ately resourced.


(Source: World Wildlife Fund news release via EurekAlert!, 21.04.2016)


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Goal: 7000 tigers in the wild

Tiger range countries map

Tiger map” (CC BY 2.5) by Sander­son et al., 2006.

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