Sunday, May 30, 2010

More of the same old stuff

A recent article in Science The Barometer of Life arguing for increased investment in expanding the knowledge base for biodiversity, to improve our understanding of biodiversity as a key indicator of both ecological and human wellbeing and enable more effective policy decision making - authored by a group well known in this community.

The Barometer of Life is in my humble view yet an other buzzword. No doubt, we need to expand the knowledge base for biodiversity, but I strongly doubt that the approach described and the institutions have proven that they can deliver. Countdown 2010 has passed by without any real changes nor respective instruments built. More action has been announced in Nairobi ( along the same line. Conservation International’s expensive TEAM effort has not delivered the original global early warning system. SSC’s data is still not easily if at all accessible, for example linked through institutions like GBIF. The Encyclopedia of Life is far from being fully functional, nor does it generate new data. Still the number of expected 1.9M species is cited, similar to 1986 when about this estimate has been circulated for the first time. There is not even an updated list of the global species available, nor are monitoring programs in site, that would allow measuring directly changes at species level, something TEAM planned to deliver.

Whilst we now have almost 1meter resolution remote sensing data for the entire planet and a huge number of physical parameters measured, most of it open access, species are still dealt with crude “guestimates” by few experts, no system has been developed to monitor the global species properly, the underlying observational data made accessible, nor the respective collaborations between the taxonomists, conservation organizations and policy makers set up.

Unless a new approach is chosen, the estimated 60 Million US Dollars could be spent with better return, in a way that is open to such critical scrutiny like the climate data generated, and by scientists that now how to generate the necessary data.

In a world and time where remarkable changes occur in the informatics and taxonomy world, these remarkable changes should be seized. The Global Name Architecture pulling together all the existing names of the species of the world, the Biodiversity Heritage Library scanning millions pages of natural history literature and make them accessible; new publishing models in taxonomy including mark-up of relevant text and links to external resources occur (eg taxpub); numerous efforts to digitize the species at a resolution allowing the identification of an rapidly increasing number of species; DNA Barcoding allows in many areas rapid and large scale assessments with a huge potential in the future; field campaigns in various parts of the world using standardized methods run by specialists. Not least the sharing of data allows the use of this data around the globe. Unless these resources are an integral part of monitoring and content is being generated, yet another Barometer of Life will be doomed again.



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