sharing of the benefits from their conservation and sustainable use. Since then, a series of studies, assessments, and monographs from the National Research Council, the United Nations, and the academic community have sought to provide direction and impetus to further action on these issues. A sampling offered by James P. Collins included seven titles from the “bookshelf of reports in my office.”2 In 2005 the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment3—a massive effort involving more than 2,000 scientists from 77 countries conducted over the preceding 5 years and authorized under four international conventions4—attempted a comprehensive overview of the changing state of the ecological services that underpin human well-being.
By 2009 the biodiversity issue had developed new and far-reaching breadth and complexity. Scientific advances in microbial biology and molecular genetics had opened new possibilities for understanding fundamental aspects of the natural world that had previously been beyond our grasp. New instrumentation had made it increasingly possible to gather and analyze data over large geographic areas based on remote sensing from satellites, as well as land- and ocean-based sensors. Rapid advances in information management offered new opportunities for the synthesis and analysis of biological data. Yet, at the same time, the scientific community was increasingly aware of the limitations of current knowledge about many aspects of biodiversity, including the rapidity with which the different dimensions of biodiversity were being modified, eroded, or even disappearing entirely. Dr. Collins quoted estimates placing the number of species on Earth at 10–12 million, and stated that, at present rates of describing new species, just knowing what is out there will take 160 years. He also noted that by some estimates, 10–37 percent of remaining species could become extinct by 2050.5 As a result, many thousands of species will be lost before
2 In addition to the 1988 NAS/Smithsonian Biodiversity, his list included the following publications: NRC, 1992, Conserving Biodiversity: A Research Agenda for Development Agen cies; UNEP, 1996, Global Biodiversity Assessment; NRC, 1999, Perspectives on Biodiversity: Valuing Its Role in an Everchanging World; F. S. Chapin, O. E. Sala, and E. Huber-Sannwald, eds., 2001, Global Biodiversity in a Changing Environment: Scenarios for the 21st Century; CBD Secretariat, 2006, Global Biodiversity Outlook 2; NRC, 2008, In Light of Evolution, Vol. II: Biodiversity and Extinction.
3 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. 2005. Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Synthesis. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute.
4 The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment was authorized under the Convention on Biological Diversity, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, and the Convention on Migratory Species.
5 Thomas, C. D. et al. 2004. Nature 427, 145–148.