A global audit of biodiversity monitoring: August 2019 final blog entry

7 Aug 2019

The following blog is written by Ian Burfield, Global Science Coordinator (Species), BirdLife International (project lead for the CCI Collaborative Fund project ‘A global audit of biodiversity monitoring’).

There is a growing demand for data to track the changing state of biodiversity, such as trends in species’ populations. This project undertook a global audit of biodiversity monitoring, identifying the major taxonomic, geographic and temporal gaps in coverage, and suggesting ways to close them. The results will help to improve the monitoring of (threatened) species and Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs), and feed into work undertaken as part of Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

We held an inception workshop at the David Attenborough Building (DAB) on 14 November 2017, where 16 experts refined the objectives, defined the scope and agreed how to collaborate. The project researcher (Dr Caroline Moussy) was recruited in early 2018 and began work by developing the structure for the database. After trialling how long it took to detect relevant schemes via online searches using standard search terms, Caroline and a BirdLife intern (Bella Newton) conducted searches for monitoring schemes in 41 large, megadiverse, and/or randomly-selected countries.

We developed a robust key to define long-term monitoring schemes. This key was incorporated into a questionnaire to gather metadata on relevant schemes. The team disseminated the questionnaire widely within their organisations, through their global networks and via social media.

We also initiated small subcontracts with experts in seven biodiversity-rich countries (Argentina, China, Colombia, Ghana, Indonesia, Kazakhstan and South Africa), asking them to conduct ‘deep dives’ and compile exhaustive national inventories of monitoring schemes. This allowed us to ‘ground-truth’ the results of our online searches and the questionnaire survey.

On 14 January 2019, the project team held a workshop at the DAB to review the data and provisional results, plan analyses and map out key products. Combining the results from the three different types of searches yielded a final data set of 1,168 schemes in 100 countries. 

As expected, we found that birds and mammals are the taxonomic groups most frequently covered by monitoring schemes. Plants, reptiles, insects, fish and amphibians are monitored much less often, while very few schemes cover other taxonomic groups. The vast majority of schemes cover terrestrial species. By far the largest number of monitoring schemes was found in Europe, followed by sub-Saharan Africa, South America, East Asia and North America. Most schemes operate at the national or sub-national (regional or local) levels. 

Several of our national ‘deep dive’ partners reported difficulties with accessing information about monitoring schemes in their own countries, where language was no barrier. Despite the depth of the global biodiversity crisis, and the fact that most countries are CBD signatories, it is clear that monitoring remains a low priority for many governments, especially in tropical biodiversity-rich regions facing some of the most acute threats. Rectifying this is a high priority if countries are serious about being able to assess their progress towards global goals (e.g. CBD Aichi Targets and UN Sustainable Development Goals).

The principal outputs of this project will be a scientific paper presenting the results of the first global audit and gap analysis of biodiversity monitoring, and a freely available database containing metadata on more than 1,000 schemes. The combined impact of these outputs will be a better understanding of the distribution and methods of biodiversity monitoring globally, and increased volumes of biodiversity monitoring data mobilised and available for decision makers, especially for conservation project reporting, MEA progress assessments and KBA monitoring.

Compiling and sharing monitoring methods and protocols in this way will also improve the availability of information that can be used by researchers and practitioners, with data identified by the project already being brought into the Living Planet Index (LPI). Taxonomic and geographical gaps highlighted by the project will also be used to identify priorities for developing and implementing capacity-building initiatives in high-biodiversity countries. This project therefore makes a significant contribution to the objectives of the IUCN SSC Species Monitoring Specialist Group.

For more information on the CCI Collaborative Fund project, please visit the project page.