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[Press release] A new method to assess ecosystem vulnerability and protect biodiversity

Setting appropriate conservation strategies is a challenging goal, especially because of the complexity of threats and responses from species, and budget limitations. To overcome this challenge, the team of scientists, including researchers from CNRS, IFREMER, IRD and international organizations, has simulated the response of species communities to a wide range of disturbances, providing a robust estimation of their vulnerability, in a world where future threats are diverse and difficult to predict.

 

Quantifying the vulnerability of biodiversity is crucial to safeguard the most threatened ecosystems. Published in Nature Communications on the 1st of September 2022, this new tool stands out from previous work as it estimates the degree to which functional diversity, that is biodiversity and associated ecosystem functions, is likely to change when exposed to multiple pressures. It was developed as part of two projects funded by the French Foundation for Research on Biodiversity (FRB) within its Centre for Biodiversity Synthesis and Analysis (CESAB) and with the support of Electricité de France (EDF) and France Filière Pêche (FFP).

 

The team of 20 scientists used repeated computer simulations of disturbances on species communities to calculate the ecosystem’s vulnerability. From climate change and land use changes to pollution or resource overexploitation, these disturbances simulate the impacts of a large range of potential threats on species communities. “By simulating all possible scenarios, even the worst ones, explains Arnaud Auber, researcher at IFREMER and first author of the publication, we are able to identify the most vulnerable ecosystems from a functional view-point. Moreover, we can now estimate their vulnerability by taking into account unknown, unpredictable or poorly documented pressures, which is a major advance over previous work.” This safer approach offers decision-makers the possibility to classify various sites according to their associated functional vulnerability, which is now urgently needed to move forward adaptive management of biodiversity.

 

In this study, the functional diversity of communities was made central to the calculation of vulnerability. Overall, biodiversity conservation has mainly focused on taxonomic diversity (e.g., the number of species in an ecosystem). However, recent studies including work from the FREE project, have shown that examining functional diversity can provide a more precise assessment of whether or not an ecosystem is functioning properly. Indeed, a species may have the same function as another (e.g. the same preys or reproductive cycle) and so if one species disappears, another may still fulfil its role in the ecosystem. But if all species sharing the same essential function disappear, the ecosystem will become less functionally diverse, less resilient to threats and thus more vulnerable. In other words, taxonomic diversity in an ecosystem is important but not sufficient to properly assess ecosystem vulnerability. Parrotfishes for example, are one of the only fish species that can directly feed on corals. If they disappear, an essential component of the carbon cycle in coral reefs will be lost. Functional and taxonomic diversity are therefore complementary and should be used together to better guide decision-makers in identifying priority areas for biodiversity protection.

 

This new approach can be applied to all ecosystems, whether marine, terrestrial or freshwater. “As an example, explains Arnaud Auber, we applied our functional vulnerability framework to the past temporal dynamics of the North Sea fish community. Using fish abundance data and species traits linked to ecosystem functioning such as fecundity, offspring size and feeding mode, our tool revealed a high functional vulnerability of fish communities in the North Sea. However, we found a significant decrease in functional vulnerability throughout the last four decades, dropping from 92 to 86%. During the same period, the North Sea fishing pressure had decreased, following the Common Fisheries Policy, with a progressive decrease in catch quotas and improvement in gears’ selectivity.”

 

Finally, this tool is open access and can be used to predict ecosystem vulnerability using for example future climate change scenarios or to compare different ecosystems. This highlights the need for synthesis as we continue to improve our understanding of the complexity of nature. Only when put together will data and knowledge help quantify the impact of multiple threats on the world’s ecosystems and assist decision-makers in rationalizing ecosystem management and conservation actions in an uncertain future.

 

Reference

 

Arnaud Auber1, Conor Waldock2,3, Anthony Maire4, Eric Goberville5, Camille Albouy6,7, Adam C. Algar8, Matthew McLean9, Anik Brind’Amour10, Alison L. Green11, Mark Tupper12,13, Laurent Vigliola14, Kristin Kaschner15, Kathleen Kesner-Reyes16, Maria Beger17,18, Jerry Tjiputra19, Aurèle Toussaint20, Cyrille Violle21, Nicolas Mouquet22,23, Wilfried Thuiller24, David Mouillot23,25. “A functional vulnerability framework for biodiversity conservation”. 2022. Nature Communications. doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-32331-y/

[Press release] Stewardship by Indigenous and local communities is the key to successful nature conservation

In the run-up to the 15th United Nations Conference on Biodiversity, several States have committed to creating protected areas on at least 30% of their land and sea territories by 2030. This tendency to focus on the proportion of land and sea to be protected in order to preserve biodiversity obscures more fundamental questions: how conservation is done, by whom and with what outcomes. These questions are crucial for effective biodiversity conservation.

 

Lead author, Dr Neil Dawson of University of East Anglia (UEA) School of International Development, was part of an international team conducting a systematic review that found conservation success is “the exception rather than the rule” – but research suggests the answer could be equitable conservation, which empowers and supports the environmental stewardship of Indigenous Peoples and local communities. This global review of evidence takes advantage of a growing number of studies looking at how governance – the arrangements and decision making behind conservation efforts – affects both nature and the well-being of Indigenous Peoples and local communities.

 

The work is part of the JustConservation research project funded by the French Foundation for Research on Biodiversity (FRB) within its Centre for Biodiversity Synthesis and Analysis (CESAB), and was initiated through the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy (IUCN CEESP). It is the result of collaboration between 17 scientists, including researchers from the European School of Political and Social Sciences (ESPOL) at the Catholic University of Lille and the University of East Anglia. The findings are published on 02/09/2021 in the journal Ecology and Society.

 

Dr Dawson said: “This study shows it is time to focus on who conserves nature and how, instead of what percentage of the Earth to fence off. Conservation led by Indigenous Peoples and local communities, based on their own knowledge and tenure systems, is far more likely to deliver positive outcomes for nature. In fact, conservation very often fails because it excludes and undervalues local knowledge and this often infringes on rights and cultural diversity along the way.”

 

International conservation organisations and governments often lead the charge on conservation projects, excluding or controlling local practices, most prominently through strict protected areas. The study recommends Indigenous Peoples and local communities need to be at the helm of conservation efforts, with appropriate support from outside, including policies and laws that recognise their knowledge systems. “Furthermore, it is imperative to shift to this approach without delay” Dr Dawson said. “Current policy negotiations, especially the forthcoming UN climate and biodiversity summits, must embrace and be accountable for ensuring the central role of Indigenous Peoples and local communities in mainstream climate and conservation programs. Otherwise, they will likely set in stone another decade of well-meaning practices that result in both ecological decline and social harms. Whether for tiger reserves in India, coastal communities in Brazil or wildflower meadows in the UK, the evidence shows that the same basis for successful conservation through stewardship holds true. Currently, this is not the way mainstream conservation efforts work.”

 

From an initial pool of over 3,000 publications, 169 were found to provide detailed evidence of both the social and ecological sides of conservation. Strikingly, the authors found that 56 per cent of the studies investigating conservation under ‘local’ control reported positive outcomes for both human well-being and conservation. For ‘externally’ controlled conservation, only 16 per cent reported positive outcomes and more than a third of cases resulted in ineffective conservation and negative social outcomes, in large part due to the conflicts arising with local communities.

 

However, simply granting control to local communities does not automatically guarantee conservation success. Local institutions are every bit as complex as the ecosystems they govern, and this review highlights that a number of factors must align to realize successful stewardship. Community cohesion, shared knowledge and values, social inclusion, effective leadership and legitimate authority are important ingredients that are often disrupted through processes of globalisation, modernisation or insecurity, and can take many years to re-establish. Additionally, factors beyond the local community can greatly impede local stewardship, such as laws and policies that discriminate against local customs and systems in favour of commercial activities. Moving towards more equitable and effective conservation can therefore be seen as a continuous and collaborative process.

 

Dr  Dawson said: “Indigenous Peoples’ and local communities’ knowledge systems and actions are the main resource that can generate successful conservation. To try to override them is counterproductive, but it continues, and the current international policy negotiations and resulting pledges to greatly increase the global area of land and sea set aside for conservation are neglecting this key point. Conservation strategies need to change, to recognize that the most important factor in achieving positive conservation outcomes is not the level of restrictions or magnitude of benefits provided to local communities, but rather recognising local cultural practices and decision-making. It is imperative to shift now towards an era of conservation through stewardship.

 

CP_JustConservation_2021_fig

Figure: The central and inseparable role of Indigenous Peoples and local communities in equitable and effective biodiversity conservation

[Press release] A better protection of marine megafauna through social networks and artificial intelligence

Scientists from three joint research units (MARBECENTROPIE and LIRMM) have just published a study using the latest technological advances to identify charismatic species of the marine megafauna of New Caledonia: dugongs, turtles and sharks. This work, entitled “Leveraging social media and deep learning to detect rare megafauna in video surveys” and published in the international journal Conservation Biology, is partly the result of the Pelagic research project financed by the Foundation for Research on Biodiversity (FRB) within its Centre for Biodiversity Synthesis and Analysis (Cesab), and is based on the collection of aerial videos financed by the Explorations de Monaco.

[Press release] Study in Nature: Protecting the Ocean Delivers a Comprehensive Solution for Climate, Fishing and Biodiversity

A new study published in the prestigious peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature today offers a combined solution to several of humanity’s most pressing challenges. It is the most comprehensive assessment to date of where strict ocean protection can contribute to a more abundant supply of healthy seafood and provide a cheap, natural solution to address climate change—in addition to protecting embattled species and habitats.

 

An international team of 26 authors – including researchers from Ifremer and the University of Montpellier and with the CNRS – identified specific areas that, if protected, would safeguard over 80% of the habitats for endangered marine species, and increase fishing catches by more than eight million metric tons. The study is also the first to quantify the potential release of carbon dioxide into the ocean from trawling, a widespread fishing practice—and finds that trawling is pumping hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the ocean every year, a volume of emissions similar to those of aviation. This work was partly funded by the Foundation for Research on Biodiversity (FRB), EDF and the Total Foundation, through the FREE and PELAGIC research projects of the FRB’s Center for Biodiversity Synthesis and Analysis (CESAB).

 

“Ocean life has been declining worldwide because of overfishing, habitat destruction and climate change. Yet only 7% of the ocean is currently under some kind of protection,” said Dr. Enric Sala, explorer in residence at the National Geographic Society and lead author of the study, Protecting the global ocean for biodiversity, food and climate.

 

“In this study, we’ve pioneered a new way to identify the places that—if strongly protected—will boost food production and safeguard marine life, all while reducing carbon emissions,” Dr. Sala said. “It’s clear that humanity and the economy will benefit from a healthier ocean. And we can realize those benefits quickly if countries work together to protect at least 30% of the ocean by 2030.” 

 

To identify the priority areas, the authors—leading marine biologists, climate experts, and economists—analyzed the world’s unprotected ocean waters based on the degree to which they are threatened by human activities that can be reduced by marine protected areas (for example, overfishing and habitat destruction). They then developed an algorithm to identify those areas where protections would deliver the greatest benefits across the three complementary goals of biodiversity protection, seafood production and climate mitigation. They mapped these locations to create a practical “blueprint” that governments can use as they implement their commitments to protect nature.

 

The study does not provide a single map for ocean conservation, but it offers a first-in-kind framework for countries to decide which areas to protect depending on their national priorities. However, the analysis shows that 30% is the minimum amount of ocean that the world must protect in order to provide multiple benefits to humanity.

 

“There is no single best solution to save marine life and obtain these other benefits. The solution depends on what society—or a given country—cares about, and our study provides a new way to integrate these preferences and find effective conservation strategies,” said Dr. Juan S. Mayorga, a report co-author and a marine data scientist with the Environmental Market Solutions Lab at UC Santa Barbara and Pristine Seas at National Geographic Society.

 

The study comes ahead of the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, which will gather end of 2021 in Kunming, China. The meeting will bring together representatives of 190 countries to finalize an agreement to end the world’s biodiversity crisis. The goal of protecting 30% of the planet’s land and ocean by 2030 (the “30×30” target) is expected to be a pillar of the treaty. The study follows commitments by the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, the European Commission and others to achieve this target on national and global scales.

 

“Solutions with multiple benefits are attractive to people and leaders alike. Our pioneering approach allows them to pinpoint the places that, if protected, will contribute significantly to three big problems at once—food security, climate change, and biodiversity loss.  Our breakthrough in methodology can bring multiple benefits to nature and people,” said Dr. Sala.