Wednesday, January 26, 2011

IPBES and decline of taxonomists

It must be a tragic coincidence that at the moment that IPBES has been created, the world largest biodiversity project, the Census of Marine Life came to an end. The legacy of this project is just not what it ought to be, a new generation of taxonomists and institutions that continue the research.
After a decade and 650 million dollars, the Census of Marine Life represents one of the largest initiatives to document biodiversity on our planet. In some regards, it was a great success, supporting 2,700 scientists to produce 2,600 new scientific publications and thousands of new species descriptions. But as the Census ends this year, no agency or organization is offering to fill the funding void previously filled by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Perhaps more importantly, the Census, like many initiatives, did not provide long-term positions and appointments for those doing taxonomic work. Many biology departments within universities no longer employ a taxonomist. The remaining positions are relegated to museums.
Wired, January 19, 2011 Craig McClain

Is the situation that tragic? Isn't this a question of the perspective? Philippe Bouchet made some points relevant to this debate in his lecture at the EDIT-5 years meeting in Paris last week: There are more taxonomists, and we know more about the gaps. He also points out that the structure of taxonomist is not just professionals, but that there are plenty of amateurs, and most of the publications are not in journals with a high impact factor. The data is from his own work on marine organisms, of which some has been published in a book chapter "The Magnitude of Marine Biodiversity".

Similarly, Sandy Knapp made a point in the discussion that we should not forget, that we need just to talk about the taxonomists: There is a huge investment into a even larger infrastructure, i.e. our herbaria and natural history collections and museums, and that there is right now a large effort being made to digitize a substantial part of these collections in the US.

One might argue, that a lot has to do with context: What do we really know, and what does it mean in context?

Monday, January 10, 2011

IPBES created by UNGA

IPCC for Nature: IPBES

Press Release by UNEP:
New York/Nairobi, 21 December 2010 A new international body aimed at catalyzing a global response to the loss of biodiversity and world's economically-important forests, coral reefs and other ecosystems was born yesterday by governments at the United Nations 65th General Assembly (UNGA).

It underlines a further success of the UN's International Year of Biodiversity and should provide a boost to the International Year of Forests which begins in January 2011, and the international decade of biodiversity, also beginning in January 2011.

The adoption, by the UNGA plenary, was the last approval needed for setting up an Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

Governments gave a green light to its establishment in June at a meeting in Busan, Republic of Korea, coordinated by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), but this required a resolution to be passed at the UNGA.

The independent platform will in many ways mirror the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which has assisted in catalyzing worldwide understanding and governmental action on global warming.

The new body will bridge the gulf between the wealth of scientific knowledge on the accelerating declines and degradation of the natural world, with knowledge on effective solutions and decisive government action required to reverse these damaging trends.

Its various roles will include carrying out high-quality peer reviews of the wealth of science on biodiversity and ecosystem services emerging from research institutes across the globe in order to provide gold standard reports to governments.

This is a logic step forwards, and if the actors can get their acts together, a crucial step to bring back biodiversity as a a real item (as opposed to proxies such as area of forest lost) into the political debate. The effort needed to give the IPCC its weight is tremendous and ought not be underestimated, especially since they begun with a different social structure of the underlying scientific community.