Wednesday, November 05, 2008

More on the Global Mammal Assesment

Simon Stuart wrote a rebuttal on taxacom and conservation commons listserve, where I tried to reply. So I went back to follow all the links he provides and have to confess, that there are the shape files online available, albeit without any metadata attached to them and as zip files, and of course no primary data they just do not deal with. So I downloaded the elephant shrew data sets and opened it in ArcView to have a look at the shape files. They are very coarse, similar to what we did for our taxonomic works where we drove nice circles. From there I went to the Red List site and looked up the tiger and some of the elephant shrews. At the bottom of the page there was a template how this page would have to be cited. Fair enough.

Now, that I have the famous Mammals of East Africa by Kingdon, I thought, why not look up what he has to say about this species. And here it is: The very same map, with all the collections he checked up marked.

It seems to me odd, that somebody can just copy and paste a figure from a scientific work without citing the source (Kingdon, J. 1974. East African Mammals. An Atlas of Evolution in Africa. Vol. 2A, Academic Press, London. Page 42) and at the same time loosing data, both regarding the distribution and the populations.

Since all the distribution maps of the species pages can be downloaded - and will be downloaded by many people, the proper citation of the materials used should be given. The way it's done all the links to the original work is lost.

Monday, November 03, 2008

An example of total ignorance of Conservation Commons principles: The Global Mammal Assessment.

Four years after the Global Amphibian Assessment (GAA), the Global Mammal Assessment (GMA) hit the news, this time including an impressive number of 1,700 contributing scientists, covering all the mammals of the world. It was one of the few topics that hit the press around the globe during the WCC of an otherwise rather despressive coverage of the WCC, and with it the issues of conservation. This cold be blamed to external factors such as the global financial crisis, but I think, the GMA itself might be symptomatic for the disinterest.

Why? Try to find the GMA on the web. The original Science paper is not an open access paper, and thus for most of the readers off, since you need a credit card to read it. Most of the people in the places where biodiversity disappears don’t have the means to do this. But even, when you get the paper, you can download the auxiliary materials, which refers to the original data, but does not provide access to it. The next step would be to go to IUCN, but their web site does not provide a link to it. So, why not go to SSCs? There is nothing either. A next step is to check out the Redlist web site, where there is finally a press release, but this only covering the mammals on the Red List not the GMA.
Obviously, there is no easy way to get to the anything else than press releases.

When we talked about the GAA in Bangkok four years ago, the management of the GAA stressed, that all the data will be available online. It is not yet.

During the last four years, our technology changed dramatically. One of the most striking change is the availability of remote sensing data allowing access to high resolution remote sensing data to even the most remotest corner of the world. How does the GMA approach to draw simple envelops around the know distribution records or their species live up to this resolution? There are plenty of new programs around that could produce predictive maps, and which are actually used. This approach would actually mean, that the technology is more sophisticated and a little bit more living up to what new data is offering other than essentially experts opinion. It would also allow to challenge the experts, if they would have to provide access to the observation they used to derive their conclusion.

There are well over 100M observation records available through GBIF, data that is not systematically used in the GMA. It can be argued, that there are a lot of problems with that data – but it can at least be criticized or challenged, which is part of the scientific process. Expert’s opinions can not, since their base data is not available. Probably more importantly, such experts’ data can not be used for monitoring purposes, since it is impossible to compare data over time, such as would be needed in Countdown 2010. Finally, how representative is the experts data? How well do they know their species? How has the data been collected that went into their analysis?

Since the begin of the biodiversity crisis in 1986, Redlisting has not changed. It is easier to fly around the world from meeting to meeting, to communicate via email, to use GIS and thus a wider group can be covered. But it all depends on experts – a kind of expert knowledge that can easily be challenged. What should be done is to remove the expert from providing polygons to somebody that provides point data with proper GPS records taken in the field, modeling and GIS experts, and not least an infrastructure allowing others to pick up the data and run an independent analysis. Redlisting should not be the domain of few experts, but should strive to include the widest possible community it needs to live up to this very daunting task to measure the dynamic distribution patterns and changes of our species. It should also provide the community to use the data to make their case in places where one might not expect it. Only the application of the Conservation Commons Principles will allow that.