Biodiversity is declining, and is likely to continue along the same path unless something is done about it. And to effectively do something about it, it appears that large investments are required. These substantial investments will probably result in a critical assessment of the science underlying the current and near-future efforts. After all, people and governments like to know where their money goes. This led to a survey among conservation scientists, of which the results have recently been published in the journal Conservation Biology. In the words of the author:
As in the climate-change debate, supporters of strong action will likely argue that the science is clear and overwhelmingly consistent with action, whereas skeptics will argue that the science is highly uncertain and unworthy of use as a foundation for public policy. Thus, it will be crucial to understand the degree of consensus among conservation professionals on core scientific points and on feasible and preferred management interventions.
The internet-based survey attracted the response of 583 conservation scientists. The main topics the survey dealt with were:
Understanding of loss of biological diversity.
Here, there was great unanimity. A whopping 99.5% of the respondents agreed that a serious loss of global biodiversity is well underway, of which 8.4% called it likely, 24.9% very likely and 66.2% virtually certain. The same three categories received 3.3%, 17.3% and 79.1% (99.7% in total) of the answers on the question whether or not human activities are accelerating this loss. 96.9% agreed that global warming is a process already occurring, and 98.1% agreed that human activities accelerated the process. 58.1% agreed and 14.6% strongly agreed that the nature and causes of biodiversity loss are well understood and 35.5% agreed (6.2% strongly agreed) that the consequences of this are highly understood.
Geographical scope of biodiversity loss.
Biodiversity loss was thought to be very likely or virtually certain in Europe by 72.8% of respondents, rising to 90.9% for Southeast Asia. Marine tropical coral was perceived as most seriously affected (38.7% very likely, and 49.3% virtually certain). Other ecosystems at risk are tropical moist and dry broadleaf forest and mangrove (47.4%, 44.6% and 40.6% virtually certain, respectively).
Conservation values and priorities.
Here, each respondent was shown 16 questions out of 32 possible ones, and was asked to put them in order, ranging from ‘agree most with’ to 'agree least with’. The three statements most agreed with were:
- Conservation planning needs to understand how people and nature interact in particular places. (Most agreed with in 55.7% of cases.)
- Biological diversity should be conserved because it sustains ecosystem function. (Most agreed with in 52.1% of cases.)
- Conservation priorities should reflect the need to protect globally important species and ecosystems.(Most agreed with in 41.4% of cases.)
Management and policy options.
50.3% of scientist agree and 9.1% strongly agree that triage decisions might prove necessary (meaning focusing on some species while ‘ignoring’ others). Also, the integration of ecology and economic analyses was supported (41.5% agreed or strongly agreed, 26.2% neither agreed or disagreed). Lastly, the majority thought that conservation professionals should be willing to rethink conservation goals and standards of success (82.0% agreed or strongly agreed).
The author concludes:
The key message of my results is that there is overwhelming agreement on the overall extent and geographic scope of loss of biological diversity among scientists with diverse professional and demographic characteristics. The degree of consensus regarding the loss of biological diversity is, in fact, much higher than the degree of consensus for the existence of anthropogenic climate change among climate scientist. It may soon be possible to assess whether scientists’ opinions on the magnitude and timing of loss coincide with new scenario models of loss of biological diversity.
The degree of consensus on the magnitude of current and projected losses of biological diversity may increase policy makers’ level of confidence that investments in scientific modeling, monitoring, restoration, and institutional reform are warranted. Given the perceived severity of loss of biological diversity, scientists may be willing to discuss potentially contentious conservation options. A willingness to engage in wide-ranging discussions of these options could give policy makers more ideas and latitude with regard to conservation issues. It seems particularly timely that now, as Conservation Biology celebrates its 25th anniversary, we could be on the cusp of a period of evolution in thinking about how conservation goals might be redefined and realized as the effects of human activities and climate change escalate rapidly.
Rudd, M.A. (2011). Scientists’ Opinions on the Global Status and Management of Biological Diversity. Conservation Biology. Published online 9 November. doi:10.1111/j.1523-1739.2011.01772.x. (Click here for the article, with a lot more numbers, figures and an example of the survey.)