[Taxacom] Funding begets biodiversity

Felix Sperling felix.sperling at ualberta.ca
Thu Jan 27 18:00:53 CST 2011

In light of all the discussion about the relationship between taxonomy and "acronyms", here is an interesting paper just out in Journal of Biogeography. As you can see in the abstract, there can be a positive feedback cycle between availability of funding and amount of biodiversity, with funding being easier to get for documenting biodiversity hotspots, which in turn drives up the numbers of documented species. 

This should give any funding agency pause for thought!

-  Felix Sperling

See:  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1472-4642.2010.00737.x/abstract

Ahrends et al. 2011. Funding begets biodiversity. Journal of Biogeography, online early access   DOI: 10.1111/j.1472-4642.2010.00737.x

Aim  Effective conservation of biodiversity relies on an unbiased knowledge of its distribution. Conservation priority assessments are typically based on the levels of species richness, endemism and threat. Areas identified as important receive the majority of conservation investments, often facilitating further research that results in more species discoveries. Here, we test whether there is circularity between funding and perceived biodiversity, which may reinforce the conservation status of areas already perceived to be important while other areas with less initial funding may remain overlooked.

Location  Eastern Arc Mountains, Tanzania.

Methods  We analysed time series data (1980–2007) of funding (n = 134 projects) and plant species records (n = 75,631) from a newly compiled database. Perceived plant diversity, over three decades, is regressed against funding and environmental factors, and variances decomposed in partial regressions. Cross-correlations are used to assess whether perceived biodiversity drives funding or vice versa.

Results  Funding explained 65% of variation in perceived biodiversity patterns – six times more variation than accounted for by 34 candidate environmental factors. Cross-correlation analysis showed that funding is likely to be driving conservation priorities and not vice versa. It was also apparent that investment itself may trigger further investments as a result of reduced start-up costs for new projects in areas where infrastructure already exists. It is therefore difficult to establish whether funding, perceived biodiversity, or both drive further funding. However, in all cases, the results suggest that regional assessments of biodiversity conservation importance may be biased by investment. Funding effects might also confound studies on mechanisms of species richness patterns.

Main conclusions  Continued biodiversity loss commands urgent conservation action even if our knowledge of its whereabouts is incomplete; however, by concentrating inventory funds in areas already perceived as important in terms of biodiversity and/or where start-up costs are lower, we risk losing other areas of underestimated or unknown value.

Felix Sperling

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