Our results will be relevant for policy and decision-making and biodiversity management

By | April 17, 2014

I used to be involved in a large EU-funded collaborative project. It gave me an opportunity to do fun basic science, and also an opportunity to see the kind of lingo that is used in order to get a big EU project funded. The project promised: "Our results will be relevant for policy and decision-making and biodiversity management."

I was part of a sub-group that worked on fundamental explorations of large scale biodiversity patterns. For the most part I doubted if this is relevant for policy and management; I have always been suspicious towards efforts to force basic science (macroecology) into self-proclaimed applicability. Besides, macroecology operates at very large scales, which further complicates its use in policy.

Yet recently I was asked to stitch up a summary of policy relevance of our results for the European Commission. This is what I came up with:

Biodiversity scaling for nature monitoring and conservation

Our key message is that biodiversity depends on spatial scale (grain, resolution), and that this dependence should be reflected by EU's monitoring and conservation efforts. Specifically:

(1) Assessments of temporal declines or increases of biodiversity are impossible without explicit reference to spatial scale. Biodiversity monitoring should combine local surveys with broad-scale county-, country- and EU-wide assessments. Examples of problems that need special attention: Measuring the effectiveness of EU agri-environment schemes, monitoring spread and numbers of invasive species, monitoring trends in diversity of pollinator species.

(2) So far EU conservation policy has focused mostly on individual species and their numbers. We propose that it should also consider species turnover (beta diversity), which measures homogeneity or heterogeneity of species composition across space. Such heterogeneity at one scale is not necessarily maintained at coarser scale. Hence, if heterogeneity it is to be promoted, it needs to be done at several scales. This could be achieved by a certain degree of contextualization, decentralization and asynchrony of conservation policies at regional and local administrative levels, as well as on the level of specific habitats and microhabitats.

(3) We found that dispersal limitations play major role in maintaining heterogeneity of species composition at large scales. In the face of climate change and because of their limited ability to move (disperse, migrate), species may not be able to track the suitable environmental conditions, and will most likely require our assistance, otherwise they will perish. In contrast, dispersal limitations and barriers may serve well as a protection against the spread of invasive species, and against the resulting biotic homogenization.

You see? All the big words are there. Climate change, extinctions, biodiversity declines, EU, invasive species. I think that it will make the commissioners happy, and it is (mostly) based on real scientific results; the only problem is that it feels a bit too general and broad. But then EU is big and general and centralized, it is a broad-scale institution. Supplying the EU with this kind of recommendations might work. Or maybe they will just fade as an echo in the vast labyrinths of Brussel's administration. I don't know.

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