Biological communities are changing rapidly as a result of human activities and these changes in community composition may have negative consequences for ecosystem diversity and function. Global models of the local responses of biological communities to human pressures can help us to make quantitative predictions and inform global conservation policy.
Conserving global biodiversity
In 1993, the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity made a commitment to reduce the rate of global biodiversity loss by 2010. However, global biodiversity indicators show continued declines, and the pressures driving these declines are steady or intensifying. The main challenges facing biodiversity are the destruction, degradation and fragmentation of habitats, exploitation of species and ecosystems, pollution and the introduction of invasive species.
Since 2010, the CBD has revised and updated their strategic plan, and developed the Aichi Biodiversity targets. PREDICTS hopes to inform and influence the implementation of policy to meet these targets.
Vertebrate populations worldwide have declined by around one third since 1970. This decline has been most severe in the tropics and in freshwater ecosystems such as rivers and lakes. Between 12% and 55% of vertebrate, invertebrate and plant groups are currently threatened with extinction – and this is likely to be an underestimate, as many species and groups remain under-studied. The Red List index tracks extinction risks for species over time, and shows that all assessed groups are becoming more threatened. Amphibians are particularly badly affected, with 42% of species showing population declines.
Natural habitats worldwide continue to decline both in size and integrity, although major progress is being achieved in tropical forests and mangroves. Many other ecosystems, such as freshwater wetlands and particularly coral reefs, continue to decline at alarming rates.
Human pressures on biodiversity
Pressures on biodiversity caused by humans remain constant, or in some cases are intensifying. Human pressures include:
- Habitat degradation (e.g., deforestation, fire)
- Overexploitation of species (e.g., fishing, hunting, traditional medicine)
- Invasive species
- Climate change
Biodiversity is important for more than just aesthetic reasons. Healthy, functioning ecosystems are crucial for ongoing human survival and well-being, providing us with food, fresh water and medicine.
Maintaining biodiversity is of huge economic importance. It is estimated that around US$3 trillion is lost annually as a result of deforestation and forest degradation. Medicine developed from natural sources makes an estimated $150 billion a year in the USA alone.
If you'd like to read more about global biodiversity declines, here are some useful links for further reading:
- Global Biodiversity Outlook 2014
- Loss of Biodiversity and Extinctions
- The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity
Addressing limitations of biodiversity indicators
Evaluating progress towards the CBD's 2010 target revealed several limitations in the existing indicators being used to monitor biodiversity. PREDICTS is designed to meet the need for next-generation biodiversity indicators, providing:
- Broad taxonomic and geographic scope Addressing biases in existing indicators towards certain taxonomic groups (e.g. birds) and geographic areas (e.g. the developed world). Not all species respond equally to human pressures, and these pressures vary dramatically between regions.
- Reflecting community and ecosystem properties Addressing previous focus on species-based indicators. Single species may not be meaningful representatives of entire ecosystems – and it is the ecosystems upon which we rely for ecosystem services.
- Transparent, peer-reviewed science We recognise the importance of publishing full descriptions and results in peer-reviewed scientific journals to maximise credibility.
PREDICTS is a partnership between:
Support and funding comes from the following sources:
Thanks to Domenico Tozzi for producing the PREDICTS logo. Thanks to Lawrence Hudson and Claire Asher for working on the design and content of the PREDICTS website. Thanks to Tim Newbold, Lawrence Hudson and Claire Asher for contributing images to the PREDICTS website.