Studying biodiversity

Researching biological diversity
Promoting the implementation of appropriate research activities concerning the functional mechanisms of the natural evolution of biodiversity, including tools and methods needed to implement biodiversity policy objectives.

There are three scales that shape the concept of biodiversity under study. the first is genetic diversity, involving community, population, organism, cell and molecule. the second is taxonomic diversity, which involves, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species and subspecies. The third is ecological diversity, involving biosphere, biome, landscape, ecosystem and habitat-niche.

The total number of species on the Earth is very large: around 1.7 million have been described but many more are believed to exist - estimates range from 5 to nearly 100 million; 12.5 million has been proposed as a reasonable working estimate. The most species-rich environments on Earth are moist tropical forests which extend over some 8 per cent of the world's land surface and probably hold more than 90 per cent of the world's species. Overall, the regions richest in biodiversity are Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America.

The conservation status of most species is not known in detail but two large animal groups - mammals and birds - have been comprehensively assessed and may be representative of the status of biodiversity in general. In 1996, 25 per cent of the world's approximately 4 630 mammal species, and 11 per cent of the 9 675 bird species were assessed as globally threatened - that is, at significant risk of total extinction (IUCN 1996). Countless other species, although not yet globally threatened, now exist in reduced numbers and as fragmented populations, and many of these are threatened with extinction at national level.

In early 1996 the European Commission supported the creation of a [European Working Group on Research and Biodiversity] (EWGRB) with the aim of suggesting research tasks to produce information supporting the Community policy concerning biodiversity. Using different tools (questionnaires, documents, brainstorming, seminars, electronic conferences) the group was able to produce a consensus between several different actors: planners, officials, representatives of NGOs, EU bodies and, of course, researchers. It was therefore possible to create a common awareness and a common philosophy or approach in which research joins policy and creates a unique vision with the same objectives. The results of this work are condensed in two documents: [Understanding Biodiversity] and [Research and Biodiversity - A step forward]. The main issue is that for the design of research strategies and for the definition of scientific protocols, the research activity on biodiversity needs a multi-disciplinary approach involving actors of several different sectors. In this context the need for enhanced communication among different actors is also addressed.
1. It is widely recognised that the current incomplete state of knowledge at all levels concerning biodiversity is a constraint on successfully implementing the Convention. This should not however slow down ongoing activities based on the existing state of knowledge.

2. Existing biological knowledge is patchy and thus substantially more research is required to improve understanding. In particular, the interactions between biological and social processes are poorly understood, as are the causes underlying the decline in biodiversity.

Type Classification:
E: Emanations of other strategies