[Taxacom] global mammal assessment

Donat Agosti agosti at amnh.org
Tue Nov 4 04:39:19 CST 2008


The Global Mammal Assessment

 

Four years after the Global Amphibian Assessment (GAA), the Global Mammal
Assessment (GMA) hit the news, this time including an impressive number of
1,700 contributing scientists, covering all the mammals of the world. It was
one of the few topics that hit the press around the globe during the WCC of
an otherwise rather depressive coverage of the WCC, and with it the issues
of conservation. This could be blamed to external factors such as the global
financial crisis, but I think, the GMA itself might be symptomatic for the
disinterest.

 

Why? Try to find the GMA on the web. The original Science paper is not an
open access paper, and thus for most of the readers off, since you need a
credit card to read it. Most of the people in the places where biodiversity
disappears don't have the means to do this. But even, when you get the
paper, you can download the auxiliary materials, which refers to the
original data, but does not provide access to it. The next step would be to
go to IUCN, but their web site (http://iucn.org <http://iucn.org/> ) does
not provide a link to it. So, why not go to SSCs
(http://iucn.org/about/work/programmes/species/about_ssc/index.cfm)? There
is nothing either. A next step is to check out the Redlist web site,
(http://iucn.org/about/work/programmes/species/red_list/index.cfm?uNewsID=16
95)  where there is finally a press release, but this only covering the
mammals on the Red List not the GMA. 

Obviously, there is no easy way to get to the anything else than press
releases.

 

When we talked about the GAA in Bangkok four years ago, the management of
the GAA stressed, that all the data will be available online. It is not yet.

 

During the last four years, our technology changed dramatically. One of the
most striking change is the availability of remote sensing data allowing
access to high resolution remote sensing data to even the most remotest
corner of the world. How does the GMA approach to draw simple envelops
around the know distribution records or their species live up to this
resolution? There are plenty of new programs around that could produce
predictive maps, and which are actually used. This approach would actually
mean, that the technology is more sophisticated and a little bit more living
up to what new data is offering other than essentially experts opinion. It
would also allow to challenge the experts, if they would have to provide
access to the observation they used to derive their conclusion.

 

There are well over 100M observation records available through GBIF. Data
that is not systematically used in the GMA. It can be argued, that there are
a lot of problems with that data - but it can at least be criticized or
challenged, which is part of the scientific process. Expert's opinions can
not, since their base data is not available. Probably more importantly, such
experts' data can not be used for monitoring purposes, since it is
impossible to compare data over time, such as would be needed in Countdown
2010. Finally, how representative is the experts data? How well do they know
their species? How has the data been collected that went into their
analysis?

 

Since the begin of the biodiversity crisis in 1986, Redlisting has not
changed. It is easier to fly around the world from meeting to meeting, to
communicate via email, to use GIS and thus a wider group can be covered. But
it all depends on experts - a kind of expert knowledge that can easily be
challenged. What should be done is to remove the expert from providing
polygons to somebody that provides point data with proper GPS records taken
in the field, modeling and GIS experts, and not least an infrastructure
allowing others to pick up the data and run an independent analysis.
Redlisting should not be the domain of few experts (who identifies them
anyway?), but should strive to include the widest possible community. It
needs this to live up to this very daunting task to measure the dynamic
distribution patterns and changes of our species. It should also provide the
community to use the data to make their case in places where one might not
expect it. Only the application of the Conservation Commons Principles- ie
open access to the data will allow that. Furthermore, there seems to be a
great need to get conservationists and taxonomists to work together, which
seems to be a typical win win situation. Right now, Redlist and this sort of
assessment are just political toys, but without the scientific rigor and
potential to make a change in a complex global political landscape, that is
increasingly competitive.

 

Donat

 

 

 

Dr. Donat Agosti

Science Consultant

Research Associate, American Museum of Natural History and Naturmuseum der
Burgergemeinde Bern

Email: agosti at amnh.org

Web:  <http://antbase.org/> http://antbase.org

Blog:  <http://biodivcontext.blogspot.com/>
http://biodivcontext.blogspot.com/

Skype: agostileu

CV <http://antbase.org/agosticv_2003.html> 

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