The challenge: Identifying existing biodiversity, understanding how it is changing and why

Knowledge about the diversity of life on our planet remains limited and fragmentary: as much as 80 per cent of existing species are, as yet, undiscovered and/or undescribed. This is particularly true of unexplored regions of the world and of small organisms such as bacteria, protists and arthropods.

The situation is complicated by the fact that the world is experiencing rapid changes in biodiversity—even in those taxonomic groups and locations that are well described. Often, this results from increasing human activities. Demographic, cultural, political and economic factors are known to have reduced and restructured habitats, thereby altering the distribution and abundance of species. Ultimately, this can lead to changes in the chemical composition of soils, water and the atmosphere that affect the biogeochemical cycles, which regulate ecosystem functions and services. Clearly, there is a need for improving our capacity to effectively monitor and assess biodiversity change and loss.

This area of research holds an additional challenge: most of the world’s richest zones of biodiversity are found within developing regions, where both financial and human resources are weakest—particularly in terms of adequately trained personnel to carry out scientific investigation.
DIVERSITAS’ response

The first aim of bioDISCOVERY is to advance efforts to measure and describe biodiversity at the level of genes, species and ecosystems. This is a fundamental step in the broader goals of improving our capacity to recognize change and loss, and to find out why it is occurring. This basic knowledge will better equip scientists to probe the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning (ecoSERVICES) and to develop appropriate social mechanisms to support more sustainable use of Earth’s natural resources (bioSUSTAINABILITY).
Assessing current biodiversity – In order to advance the state of knowledge of biodiversity, it is important to develop, validate and integrate new approaches. This focus will try to link taxonomic information to data on functional ecology and other relevant attributes while also synthesizing collection-based information technology with spatial sampling design and geographic mapping efforts.

Tasks
Strengthen taxonomic expertise in understudied taxa and regions
increase cutting-edge methods and techniques.
Establish phyloinformatics as the backbone of integrated biological databases.
Fill in the gaps, making maximal use of museum collections while optimising new data collecting efforts.
facilitate access to biological specimens and data.
Monitoring biodiversity change – There is an urgent need to build a cost-effective and scientifically robust observation system to monitor change and quantify the impacts of pressures acting on biodiversity. This network will enable researchers to identify and quantify the drivers of such change and to better understand both the causative processes and the ultimate consequences for ecosystem function and human use.

Tasks
Assess the adequacy of ongoing and proposed monitoring methods and programmes
review research on biodiversity monitoring
create network of biodiversity observatories
standardise monitoring methods
develop scientifically rigorous biodiversity indicators
Understanding and predicting biodiversity change – As a means of examining the anthropogenic drivers of biodiversity change, Focus 3 will seek to develop theoretical, experimental and empirical knowledge of ecological and evolutionary processes related to biodiversity. In this context, it will investigate how changes in the pattern and intensity of resource use affects ecological structures and processes. The final goal is to develop capacities to predict future biodiversity change.

Tasks
develop adequate understanding of the origins and dynamics
identify the anthropogenic drivers of change in biodiversity
assess the impacts of human activities on biodiversity
develop the capacity to predict future change

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