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Experts Call For More Collaboration And Investment In Biodiversity Monitoring

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April 3, 2017

Future improvements in environmental decision making and conservation action depend on more investment in on-the-ground monitoring of biodiversity to produce critical data, according to a letter published today in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment by scientists representing 12 organizations that monitor the environment, including Global Wildlife Conservation.

Increasingly accurate data is becoming available thanks to modern technology, such as satellite-based remote sensing. However, the authors argue, improving the monitoring of biodiversity and ultimately its conservation still poses several challenges, including making biodiversity data more accessible to decision makers.

“Satellites give us great data on the state of the planet, but they can’t tell us everything,” said lead author of the letter PJ Stephenson of the newly established IUCN Species Survival Commission’s (SSC) Species Monitoring Specialist Group. “Even in the 21st century we need people on the ground in key sites, such as protected areas, to count animals and plants and assess the threats facing them. Only with solid field data to complement images from space can governments, NGOs and local people make the right conservation management decisions.”

An array of monitoring tools exists to collect field data. One example is the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART), which is being used successfully in countries like Colombia, Madagascar and Nepal to track poaching and other illegal activities in and around protected areas.

“Ongoing data collection and analysis gives rangers, communities and protected area managers the key information they need to adaptively manage interventions, helping ensure effective local conservation actions,” said Barney Long, Global Wildlife Conservation director of species conservation. “These local data are also essential components of the broader data collection systems they feed into, such as the IUCN Red List or the Key Biodiversity Areas.”

Researchers also widely and successfully use camera traps to track a range of species around the world, from tigers in Asia, to elephants in Africa, to bears in North America. Local people have a key role to play through ‘citizen science,’ as evidenced by the 10 million observations collected monthly by members of the public for eBird—an online platform for real-time reporting of information on the abundance and distribution of birds.

When biodiversity data is collected it needs to be stored and shared in appropriate databases, according to the experts.

“Databases for storing and sharing biodiversity information, such as the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, are under-funded,” said Thomas Brooks, head of IUCN’s Science and Knowledge Unit. “We encourage more investment in existing monitoring systems and databases that address the needs of end users in high-biodiversity countries. This includes converting data into formats such as synthesized reports, maps and dashboards for easier interpretation and use.”

The letter, ‘Priorities for big biodiversity data’ can be accessed here.

Organizations contributing to the letter:

IUCN SSC Species Monitoring Specialist Group; IUCN Science & Knowledge Unit; BirdLife International; Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge; Conservation International, Group on Earth Observations; NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology; Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity; Luc Hoffmann Institute, UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre; Global Wildlife Conservation; Zoological Society of London.

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Photo: Camera traps are one of many technological tools that help experts track a range of species around the world.

IUCN SSC Species Monitoring Specialist Group

The IUCN SSC Species Survival Commission Species Monitoring Specialist Group aims to enhance biodiversity conservation by improving the availability of data on species populations, their habitats and threats. Read more at

Global Wildlife Conservation

Global Wildlife Conservation protects endangered species and habitats through science-based field action. GWC envisions a world with diverse and abundant wildlife and is dedicated to ensuring that the species on the verge of extinction are not lost. The global organization brings together scientists, conservationists, policymakers and industry leaders to ensure a truly collaborative approach to species conservation. Learn more at


Lindsay Renick Mayer

Global Wildlife Conservation


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