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Public action and ‘fundamental social change’ needed to reverse biodiversity decline

Getting the general public to monitor local plants and animals could help paint a clearer picture of the global biodiversity crisis, but fundamental social change is needed if we are to reverse the loss of nature critical to our survival, say biodiversity experts.

A million species are under threat of extinction, according to a global landmark report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) – and the crisis is expected to worsen unless drastic action is taken.

‘I don’t think people actually realise the implications of this in their daily lives,’ said Dr Hilde Eggermont, coordinator of the Belgian Biodiversity Platform at the Royal Belgian Institute for Natural Science and vice-chair of pan-European research network BiodivERsA. ‘Changes will be so impactful that there would be issues in Europe around food security.’

One stark example is pollinators. The numbers of bees, butterflies and beetles are declining, but these types of insects are essential for pollinating the crops that feed us. Of the 100 plants that provide 90% of the world’s food supply, 71 are pollinated by bees.

To help stop the loss of biodiversity, researchers need as much environmental data as possible so they can determine baselines and suggest specific actions to drive the political and social change needed to improve the situation. And there are currently still knowledge gaps that need to be filled. For instance, IBPES estimates that scientists have recorded around 1.7 million species of animals, plants and fungi on the planet – out of the 8.1 million of likely species on our planet.

‘We can involve citizens more strongly in monitoring and improving research data – this can allow us to collect data at a scale we need,’ said Dr Eggermont.

This could take the shape of people taking courses to learn how to survey different species on their hikes and holidays or sending photos of flower growth to researchers. Other initiatives could include conducting simple soil experiments designed by environmental scientists or uploading wildlife photos with geolocations onto research apps.

This type of data gives researchers a deeper understanding of species’ population levels and helps explain negative or positive drivers of wildlife health. Crucially, it gives more ammunition for stronger insights that can add greater pressure on governments to act on the biodiversity crisis.

Dr Eggermont says governments and other organisations involved in natural resource management, environmental protection and policy making must increase investments in citizens being able to contribute to science. This should go beyond investing specific projects and towards developing policies and technologies designed to facilitate the field of citizen science.

‘We need to address it (the biodiversity crisis) at a much large scale than just a local or national level,’ Dr Eggermont said, adding that such a biodiversity partnership could help citizens, policymakers and businesses take adequate action at European, national, regional and local level.