[Taxacom] FW: [Conservation Commons] global mammal assessment

Donat Agosti agosti at amnh.org
Wed Nov 5 07:49:12 CST 2008

Dear Simon


I am familiar with the Redlisting process - we were red-listing ant species
from within the SSC - and participated on meetings of the Sampled Red List
Index and the SSC. 


My point is, that I don't think using shape files or distribution ranges as
starting point for the assessment is adequate, that the scientific process
requires adequate citation of sources, and that it is not sufficient to
provide derived products with very little metadata only.


There is first at all a huge problem in identifying species, which is
recognized by Simon Stuart, and led to disregard amphibian museum
collections because of likely mis-identifications. Therefore it is even more
important to be able to control each single observation that is used to
build the distribution maps. Then it is important to know the data
associated with the observation. When and where was it collected; is there a
voucher specimen? Which areas have not been collected for a particular
species? What are records from literature, and how detailed are those


Producing adequate distribution map has now become a science in itself, and
the distribution maps should be accompanied by metadata outlining on how
they have been created. It should include, among others, how many
observations went into the distribution map, a list of the observations, and
whether absence data has been included, etc.


The technologies to make this extra step is available and should be used. To
rely on experts in the step of making maps is not satisfying. Their
conclusions can not be reproduced, nor challenged. From the point of view of
relying on expert's opinions, the Redlisting has not changed, even though a
sophisticated schema was introduced to calculate the red list status, once
the maps are available.


In my view, the Redlisting process has not been changed substantially, even
though algorithms have been introduced to calculate the status. The system
still relies on expert's opinions to deliver the baseline data that is
already a synthesis, upon which the entire evaluation is based. A quantum
leap would be, if the input data would be well vouchered observation data. A
second would be to replace the very coarse maps with scales that live up to
Remote Sensing data available now.


The amphibian data has, to my knowledge, not been accessible online for
month after the Bangkok conference, and still it seems it is not online
right now. There is no link on the Global Amphibian Assessment that allows
downloading the shape files, even less the original data that led to the
shape files (http://www.globalamphibians.org/index.html) , nor is it
possible to download it from http://www.iucnredlist.org/amphibian ( "the
page does not exist").


Redlisting might be a good tool at global level, but it seems not to be very
operational to actually direct conservation actions. Why would there be
national Red Lists? Conservation action is at country or local level, and
thus this data has to translate to this resolution. But, one could argue,
anything that helps conservation, should be tried. It would be good though,
if summary data could be resolved to its sources, that are in the best case
well documented observations in the field. Using Life Science Identifiers or
similar tools would allow going back to all the original observation, like
this ant specimen http://www.antweb.org/specimen.do?name=casent0041505 ,
This would also allow machines to discover whether more data, such as DNA
are available, or studies are available.


Clearly, any additional step in an assessment comes with additional costs.
At the same time each steps adds value, such as citing sources of data. So a
cost benefit analysis should take place. For example, having observation
data would allow to introduce such assessment data into climate change
models to predict where species end up. But then, it seems, such studies use
a different set of specimens. Specimen / observation data is also what ca
6,000 taxonomists are collecting in the field, and for which they are
building up global infrastructures and tools to aggregate and make  them
open access (see eg  GBIF). So, why not feed into such a system. The
protocols and standards are available.

Citation of sources is a standard in science, and publishing the results of
GMA in Science means that the GMA effort ought be scientific. It is
certainly not correct to request to be cited, whilst not giving adequate
credit. An example is the page of the Checkered Sengi
(http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/19709). At the bottom, a citation for
this page is provided (Rathbun, G.B. 2008. Rhynchocyon cirnei. In: IUCN
2008. 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. <www.iucnredlist.org>.
Downloaded on 05 November 2008.). But none is provided to the source of the
data used.  In this case, more or less the exact map, this time including
even the specimens checked, is provided on page 42 in Kingdon, J., 1974.
East African Mammals. An Atlas of Evolution in Africa. Volume 2, part A
(Insectivores and Bats). Academic Press, London.


Biodiversity crises existed from the very beginning of life on Earth.
However the term "Biodiversity Crisis" has been, to my knowledge, coined at
a meeting in Washington DC in 1986. 


Conservation Commons, in my humble view, is not that somebody has to find
somewhere data sets. In the age of Web2 and soon Web3, such important data
sets should be discoverable and readable by machines, especially, if
Redlists should be a Guide to save planet Earth. 


All the best








From: Simon Stuart [mailto:s.stuart at conservation.org] 
Sent: Tuesday, November 04, 2008 6:22 PM
To: Conservation Commons List; TAXACOM at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: RE: [Conservation Commons] global mammal assessment


An email sent to several listserves, including Conservation Commons and
Taxacom, by Donat Agosti, makes several assertions about the Global Mammal
Assessment initiative led by IUCN particularly concerning its flouting of
the Conservation Commons principles. In our opinion this message reflects a
very limited knowledge of the IUCN Red List process and greatly undervalues
the magnitude of the task undertaken by thousands of scientists around the
world. For this reason, I am providing some clarity on the issues raised:


1) First, a clarification: the Global Mammal Assessment, as the project was
called during its five-year project life-span, was a joint initiative, led
by IUCN, but in collaboration with several other institutions (see
http://www.iucnredlist.org/mammals), to reassess the conservation status of
all the world's mammals (up until this year, the assessments for more than
3,000 were flagged as "out-of-date"). As with the amphibian assessment
completed in 2004, all results of this initiative were incorporated directly
into the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Therefore, the statement in
the author's email that "a press release, .. covering the mammals on the Red
List not the GMA" is incorrect, since the two are the same. The GMA is
simply a tool, a process, which IUCN used to mobilize a network of experts
and specialists to reassess the status of all mammals. It is NOT a separate
entity and in no way dissociated from the IUCN Red List.


2) The author claims that "Since the begin of the biodiversity crisis in
1986, Redlisting has not changed". The biodiversity "crisis" started well
before 1986, but more importantly the Red Listing process has undergone
major and fundamental changes since that date: criteria were developed
(1994) and revised (2001); a website (www.iucnredlist.org
<http://www.iucnredlist.org/> ) was created aiming at actually putting the
information in the public domain; entire groups have been assessed, some
several times; and indeed the entire assessment process has become more
robust requiring a minimum set of supporting documentation to underpin the
assessments. A document providing more information on the IUCN Red List "The
IUCN Red List a key conservation tool" can be found at www.iucn.org/redlist.


3) The author is correct that the original Science paper is not open access
(Schipper et al. 2008; 322: 255). For now. While IUCN cannot be responsible
for this, we are in the process of working with Science to create a link
that will give users access to the complete text of the paper, including the
supporting online material. 


4) The mammal data contained in the IUCN Red list are all freely available
online, and have been since the launch of the list on October 6th. IUCN
maintains a well-advertised, well-regarded site that provides free,
unhindered access to the data (www.iucnredlist.org
<http://www.iucnredlist.org/> ). As the author notes, this site includes a
press release regarding the results, but actually all the data are
accessible here, too. A comprehensive mammal portal has been developed
(http://www.iucnredlist.org/mammals) that provides access to basic
information on the process, some detailed analysis, description of the data,
and acknowledgements. In addition, ALL of the spatial data collated in the
process are available for download free, including an accompanying metadata


5) The author's comment about the amphibian data is absolutely puzzling.
Data collected via the Global Amphibian Assessment have been freely
available since 2004 (i.e., even prior to Bangkok) in fact, on not just the
IUCN Red List website, but also on a parallel site hosted by NatureServe
(www.globalamphibians.org <http://www.globalamphibians.org/> ), which also
served up the spatial data freely to the public. The latter site is soon due
to be discontinued and visitors will be redirected to a portal on the IUCN
Red List site (similar to mammals) where they will be able to access all the
data, review summary results and stats, see the acknowledgements, and access
the spatial data (just as they currently can on the NatureServe site). The
data have been updated twice since 2004, both in 2006, and again in 2008
(when some 366 new species were added). 


6) IUCN's primary purpose is to provide maps showing the general extent of
occurrence for each species, since EOO is one of the thresholds used to
determine whether a species warrants listing in a threatened category. In
reality, many range maps available on the IUCN site are much more than just
EOO maps, but indeed highly accurate maps showing where species actually
occur. It is currently beyond the scope of the IUCN Red List to collate,
synthesize and curate point locality data, although IUCN supports
initiatives to do so. Any attempts by IUCN to move into this domain would
come at a significant cost to its core business of expanding the coverage,
both geographically and taxonomically, of the IUCN Red List.


7) The assertion that expert-derived, peer-reviewed data such as that
contained in the IUCN Red List index cannot be used for monitoring purposes
is simply false. It is precisely for this reason that the IUCN Red List
Index was developed to chart changes in threat status of biodiversity (based
on the number of species that moved between categories as a result of
genuine changes in threat status). The Index has recently been adopted by
the UN to report against goal 7 of the Millennium Development Goals. The RLI
is already being used to track progress towards the 2010 Biodiversity Target
(see here for more info


8) For information on the data collection process, there is a host of
information on www.iucnredlist.org/mammals that outlines the methodology and
assessment process. Red Listing does include the widest community possible:
the amphibian assessment has involved nearly 700 herpetologists in the
assessment work since inception; the mammal assessment, more than 1,700. Our
ongoing initiatives on freshwater, marine, plant and other taxa are
similarly inclusive, not just of international expertise but indeed also of
national and in-country expertise.


In summary, while we would never be so bold as to proclaim the IUCN Red
List, or the Red Listing process, as perfect, we do consider it to be
robust, improving, and still the best source of current information
available to inform the conservation of biodiversity globally. The Red List
makes use, and makes available, a lot of expert-derived information that
would otherwise never have reached the public domain. Most importantly, we
believe that the IUCN Red list ascribes fully to the principles of the
Conservation Commons, and will always aspire to ensure that everyone has
access to the best biodiversity data available to inform conservation. We
always welcome constructive suggestions for improving the Red List process. 


Simon N. Stuart


IUCN Species Survival Commission



From: Donat Agosti [mailto:agosti at amnh.org] 
Sent: Tuesday, November 04, 2008 4:55 AM
To: 'Conservation Commons List'
Subject: [Conservation Commons] global mammal assessment 

An example of total ignorance of Conservation Commons principles: 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 despressive coverage of the WCC, and with it the issues
of conservation. This cold be blamed to external factors such as the global
financial crisis, but I think, the GMA itself might be symptomatic for the


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,
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


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


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 will
allow that.







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/>

Skype: agostileu

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

Current Location <http://antbase.org/agosti_loc_bern.kmz> 

Dalmaziquai 45

3005 Bern


+41-31-351 7152

+1-202-558 0330



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