A global audit of biodiversity monitoring: May 2018 blog entry

24th September 2018

There is a growing demand for data to track the changing state of biodiversity, such as trends in species’ populations. This Collaborative Fund project is undertaking the first global audit of biodiversity monitoring, identifying where the main gaps lie, both spatially and taxonomically, and assessing how they could most efficiently be filled. Outputs from this project will feed into work undertaken as part of agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

The following blog is written by Ian Burfield, Global Science Coordinator (Programmes), BirdLife International and Project Team Lead. 

Inception workshop

The project started in November 2017 and is progressing well. One of the first activities was an inception workshop to refine the scope of the audit, which was held at the David Attenborough Building and involved 13 different organisations and networks. In addition to the project partners (BirdLife International, RSPB, UNEP-WCMC, IUCN and the University of Cambridge: Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge: Centre for the Study of Existential Risk and ZSL), representatives from the following organisations also attended: 

  • DICE, University of Kent
  • FFI
  • Group on Earth Observations Biodiversity Observation Network (GEO BON)
  • Institute for Sustainability, Newcastle University
  • Nordeco
  • Wetlands International

The workshop was successful in honing the focus of the project, which is to produce a near-comprehensive audit of schemes that are primarily designed to track changes in species abundance or occurrence over time.  The workshop also helped to refine the process by which information on monitoring schemes and data would be collected. The project will identify these schemes by proactively searching the internet and scientific literature, and by conducting a questionnaire survey. It will then ground-truth the representativeness of the results by conducting ‘deep dives’ into the biodiversity monitoring conducted by a sample of countries. 

Workshop attendees also fed into the development of the project researcher job description (Biodiversity Monitoring Project Assistant). Following a competitive recruitment process in January 2018, Dr Caroline Moussy was appointed. Caro is based at BirdLife International, in the David Attenborough Building.

The life of a project researcher

Caro’s first few weeks involved familiarisation with project documentation and relevant scientific literature, and planning the work required. She then held in-depth bilateral discussions with each of the project team members and associated experts, to find out more about what they can offer to the project. She then elaborated a draft structure for the database of monitoring schemes, before trialling how long it took to detect relevant monitoring schemes via web searches. Crucially, this pilot determined how much time should be allocated to searching using different terms, based on the rate at which the detection of new schemes began to level off. 

In March 2018, Caro, presented the project at two global teleconferences of the IUCN SSC Species Monitoring Specialist Group (chaired by PJ Stephenson, one of the project co-supervisors). She was able to answer their questions, take on board their feedback, and seek their support. Caro has also forged good links with colleagues at GEO BON.

Next steps 

The selection criteria for the monitoring schemes and the structure of the database have now been finalised, and the associated questionnaire form has been disseminated widely (https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/speciesmonitoring). The project team and wider network have asked the coordinators of known biodiversity monitoring schemes to populate the form and thereby the database. Once populated, the contents of the database will be verified and analysed.

A series of dedicated pages about the project can be viewed on the website of the Species Monitoring Specialist Group. These pages are attracting a lot of interest, thanks to their promotion via social media, with visitors from over 40 countries. 

All of the project outputs will be available from the project page on the CCI website.