[Taxacom] FW: The Barometer of Life

Donat Agosti agosti at amnh.org
Sun May 30 03:41:27 CDT 2010


A recent article in Science arguing for increased investment in expanding
the knowledge base for biodiversity, to improve our understanding of
biodiversity as a key indicator of both ecological and human wellbeing and
enable more effective policy decision making - authored by a group well
known in this community. 




The Barometer of Life is in my humble view yet an other buzzword. No doubt,
we need to expand the knowledge base for biodiversity, but I strongly doubt
that the approach described and the institutions have proven that they can
deliver. Countdown 2010 has passed by without any real changes nor
respective instruments built. More action has been announced in Nairobi
(http://tinyurl.com/28hy4m2) along the same line. Conservation
International's expensive TEAM effort has not delivered the original global
early warning system. SSC's data is still not easily if at all accessible,
for example linked through institutions like GBIF. The Encyclopedia of Life
is far from being fully functional, nor does it generate new data. Still the
number of expected 1.9M species is cited, similar to 1986 when about this
estimate has been circulated for the first time. There is not even an
updated list of the global species available, nor are monitoring programs in
site, that would allow measuring directly changes at species level,
something TEAM planned to deliver. 


Whilst we now have almost 1meter resolution remote sensing data for the
entire planet and a huge number of physical parameters measured, most of it
open access, species are still dealt with crude "guestimates" by few
experts, no system has been developed to monitor the global species
properly, the underlying observational data made accessible, nor the
respective collaborations between the taxonomists, conservation
organizations and policy makers set up. 


Unless a new approach is chosen, the estimated 60 Million US Dollars could
be spent with better return, in a way that is open to such critical scrutiny
like the climate data generated, and by scientists that now how to generate
the necessary data. 


In a world and time where remarkable changes occur in the informatics and
taxonomy world, these remarkable changes should be seized. The Global Name
Architecture pulling together all the existing names of the species of the
world, the Biodiversity Heritage Library scanning millions pages of natural
history literature and make them accessible; new publishing models in
taxonomy including mark-up of relevant text and links to external resources
occur (eg taxpub); numerous efforts to digitize the species at a resolution
allowing the identification of an rapidly increasing number of species; DNA
Barcoding allows in many areas rapid and large scale assessments with a huge
potential in the future; field campaigns in various parts of the world using
standardized methods run by specialists. Not least the sharing of data
allows the use of this data around the globe. Unless these resources are an
integral part of monitoring and content is being generated, yet another
Barometer of Life will be doomed again.





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