We are the first generation of scientists with the tools to address the dimensions of biodiversity on Earth…and ironically we may be the last generation with the opportunity to discover and understand Earth’s biodiversity before it is irrevocably changed or lost.
James Collins, February 13, 2009
The availability of solid baseline knowledge of the full dimensions of biodiversity on Earth, from genes to species, communities, and ecosystems, is fundamental to the successful management of both the variety of life and the ecosystems that they comprise. Despite centuries of progress with documenting biological diversity, speaker after speaker demonstrated how, for many groups of organisms and many aspects of their diversity, knowledge remains grossly incomplete. Life is vast, and scientific exploration is nascent. Speakers described how, as a result, humankind remains unprepared to recognize and respond to many of the changes in biodiversity being brought about through a range of direct and indirect human influences on the environment.
During the symposium, some speakers observed that knowledge is especially incomplete for certain groups of organisms and in certain geographic regions and environments. Understanding of microbial diversity (including bacteria, archaea, fungi, and so on) and its role in ecological pro-
cesses is still in its infancy, despite the evident importance of these small and ubiquitous organisms in many of the key biogeochemical processes that are important for sustaining life. Modern technology (primarily in genomics) is making possible the study of previously inaccessible aspects of microbial diversity and microbial systems for the first time. It is also highlighting the limitations of past understanding, based as it was on only the very small fraction of microbes that had been cultured and studied.
Numerous speakers addressed the implications of these scientific developments. Paul Falkowski explained recent developments in the study of marine microbial diversity that show how their biochemical and physiological diversity underpins the functioning of the entire biosphere. Michael Donoghue demonstrated that microorganisms may provide the basis for transformational technological innovations, offering examples of microbial fungi that show promise as new antibiotics and even alternative energy sources. Rodney Brown and Philip Robertson cited research in microbial systems directed toward improvements in agriculture that may be necessary to feed burgeoning human populations while also limiting environmental impacts. Dr. Donoghue argued strongly for policies to support the discovery of biodiversity as central to the development of new technologies.
For macroscopic plants and animals, some of the most biodiverse terrestrial ecosystems remain among the least well inventoried. The tropical forest ecosystems of the Amazon described by Yadvinder Malhi and the cloud forests discussed by Christian Körner are both especially vulnerable to climate and other changes, but their biodiversity is especially poorly known.
Some speakers noted that aquatic biodiversity is also inadequately understood. Mary Glackin showed that most knowledge about the world’s oceans is based on information gathered in the upper 100 meters of the water column, though the mean depth of the ocean is 4,000 meters. She emphasized the need for active exploration to better characterize ocean biodiversity, noting that the number of known marine fish species has increased to nearly 28,000, more than a threefold growth from the 8,000 identified in Darwin’s time. In the same 200 years, Boris Worm estimated a 7 percent rate of extinction and 36 percent rate of species collapse for coastal species, principally as a result of overfishing.1 Both also warned that changes in global climate, together with associated increases in ocean acidification and decreases in sea ice, may pose threats to the abundance and diversity of sea life.
1 Worm, B. et al. 2006. Science 314:787-790.
New tools are available for the inventory of biodiversity, but further innovation and application could assist synthesis, manipulation, and analysis, and might help assess response to environmental change. Several speakers described the burgeoning capacity to secure vast amounts of data, especially on genetic diversity, as well as opportunities to place data of all kinds in a spatial context through the use of new kinds of instrumentation for global and regional scale remote sensing in combination with geographic information systems (GIS). James P. Collins described how new genomics technologies and cyber-enabled observatories, which he termed “game changers,” are leading to new programs for understanding biodiversity and ecosystems, including the National Science Foundation’s National Ecological Observatory Network, as well as global initiatives such as the Group on Earth Observations Biodiversity Observation Network, and the biodiversity component of the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (see Box 2-1).
The explosion of new data at multiple levels and across many scales calls for new approaches to process and make information available and to achieve more effective integration. Cristián Samper urged the development of cutting-edge information systems that would provide broad access to the research community and to policy makers, as well as for education and outreach activities at all levels. He and other speakers referred to the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL), the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), the National Institutes of Health genetic sequence database GenBank, and the Consortium for the Barcode of Life (CBOL) as examples of the many databases developed by specific communities and individual institutions that are using new technologies to organize biological data for broad access. Dr. Samper emphasized, however, that these efforts need to be sustained, intensified, and coordinated if they are to realize their full potential. Furthermore, he noted that these effects are complementary to, but not a replacement for, traditional methods of archiving natural history data in other ways, such as through reference and voucher specimens in museum collections.
Increasingly, data on species distributions are being combined with other knowledge (e.g., phylogenetic trees) or models (e.g., climate-change scenarios) to provide improved predictions and new kinds of insights. Using GIS approaches, they are also increasingly integrated with other data to model species distributions and their associated environmental parameters. José Sarukhán described how the Mexican National Commission on Biodiversity (CONABIO; Box 2-2) uses such tools to synthesize and analyze data and make them broadly accessible to citizens and decision makers.
Pathways to Understanding the
Dimensions of Biodiversity
Within a decade: What are the dimensions of biodiversity?
Inventory of the Biosphere
Within a career: What are the consequences of species loss?
The Biology of Extinction
Within a generation: What information is needed to represent ecosystem services accurately in national accounts?
The Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems
Adaptations Required of the Scientific Community
• Academic Community:
—Value research that is discovery based as well as research with a strong theoretical-conceptual basis
—Reward “team driven” as well as individual research achievement
• Biodiversity Research Community:
—Adopt open-source biodiversity information and rapid posting of new data
—Develop and adopt new technologies for biodiversity assessment
SOURCE: James P. Collins presentation
What might next steps look like? We need an inventory of the biosphere within 10 years to get a better summary of what’s out there, and this could entail using new technologies. Then, over the course of a career, some individuals have to think about what a ‘biology of extinction’ might entail. We need better models to predict how ecosystems come apart, one or a few species at a time.…Within a generation, we need to have a much better understanding of the dynamics of coupled natural and human systems. Natural scientists and physical scientists have to do a lot more work with social scientists in terms of theories, concepts, and methods. What information is needed to represent ecosystem services accurately in national accounts? We need to have that dialogue more aggressively and more creatively.
James P. Collins, February 13, 2009
Comisión Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad (National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity)
Conceived as a
• demand-driven research organization,
• promoter of basic (systematic, ecological, socioeconomic) research,
• compiler of existing national and international biodiversity information on Mexico,
• generator of human capacity in the area of informatics for biodiversity,
• an open resource of information to all society.
CONABIO implements and operates the National Information System on Biodiversity, providing place-specific, electronic data on the species that can be found in each geographical location in Mexico. CONABIO’s users include national, state, and local officials; researchers, consultants, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); and farmers, foresters, and peasant communities. The database has guided national-scale conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in Mexico, such as establishment of protected areas and biodiversity corridors, as well as contributing to understanding of Mexico’s ecosystems, genetic diversity, and natural landscapes. It is also used to inform local infrastructure and land-use decisions, such as the location of rural water treatment facilities.
SOURCE: José Sarukhán presentation
CONABIO, developed under the auspices of the government of Mexico, is a world-leading authority in the collection, synthesis, and utilization of biodiversity information in support of policy at all levels, from local to national.
José Sarukhán, February 11, 2009
Such projects, which have been replicated in other countries (e.g., Brazil’s Biota-FAPESP, the Biodiversity Virtual Institute of the São Paulo State Foundation for Research Support), reflect the increasing need for national governments to harness reliable data for both the planning and the implementation of policy decisions. Such data also provide the opportunity to monitor environmental change, through careful observation of changes in the biosphere itself, and to use those data to implement new interventions that serve the global public good.
Tropical forests face a number of challenges from climate change. These include rising temperatures, associated increases in water use, and in some regions a decrease in dry season rainfall. How tropical forests respond to these changes depends critically on the interactions with climate change.
Yadvinder Malhi, February 12, 2009
It is now widely understood that by-products of the fossil fuels that have underpinned industrial growth in the last two centuries are transforming the chemistry of the atmosphere and the oceans with far-reaching effects on biodiversity. Several symposium speakers observed that climate change is only one among many anthropogenic drivers of biodiversity and ecosystem change. Closer integration of the world economic system has led both to the homogenization of farmlands, grasslands, and forests around the world and to the widespread dispersal of species, including harmful pests and pathogens. Some speakers also described important changes in the way in which people access and use terrestrial and marine resources. On land, habitats have been destroyed, transformed, and fragmented; water has been diverted to human use, altering hydrological flows; the chemical composition of soils has been changed; and wild species have been depleted. In the oceans the changes are less easily visible but equally profound, and Boris Worm described how direct harvest of natural fisheries is transforming marine ecosystems through the depletion of the largest predator species and the preferential harvest of the largest specimens of commercial favorites. New understanding of these processes is demonstrating the transformative and irreversible nature of some of these changes, leading several speakers to call for effective mitigation.
Climates have changed throughout earth history, but many symposium participants noted that current rates of change are extraordinary and take us outside the boundaries of previous natural and human experience. Yadvinder Malhi described the challenges from climate change to tropical ecosystems that have already been greatly affected by human encroachment. Climate changes in coming decades are projected to equal those that, in the past, have occurred over millennia. Likewise, although organisms have an inherent capacity for dispersal, sometimes across great distances, and sometimes in waves, previous levels of dispersal are quite unlike the global movements of species that have been brought about by human travel and trade. As with the effects of climate change, these species introductions, described by Charles Perrings, often occur in habitats already disturbed and fragmented by human settlement and agriculture, and that are vulnerable to invasion. Moreover, Dr. Perrings contended, under climate change, species moving between broadly bioclimatically similar regions may be less likely to encounter predators and competitors capable of keeping them in check, since climate change itself alters the “natural” range of species, and species respond individualistically.
The effect of anthropogenic modification on biodiversity and ecosystems depends on the capacity of the affected species to adapt to changes in their environment. As noted by several participants during the symposium, species unable to adapt will decline in abundance and potentially face local extirpation, or potentially whole-scale extinction of endemics. Species better able to adapt may exploit new conditions opportunistically, or may undergo rapid evolution, including the evolution of new traits resulting from changes in the nature and extent of selection pressure. Several symposium attendees observed that, in general, scientists, managers, and policy makers lack knowledge of how such changes and other new circumstances will affect ecosystem function, and how both species and systems may respond to change. In turn, this limits the ability to predict the outcome of management interventions, and to formulate appropriate policy responses.
Several speakers described the environmental consequences of closer integration in the global economy and the consequent widening and deepening of international trade. Especially significant is the dispersal of pest species in general, and pathogens in particular. For example, Ann Marie Kimball described how the rate at which novel zoonotic diseases are emerging and being transmitted through markets is rapidly accelerating (e.g., avian flu) as is the rate at which diseases are being spread through changes in the range of their vectors (e.g., West Nile virus).
The economic costs of some of these ecological changes, such as those resulting from the spread of nonnative species, can be high. David Lodge described how the rapid spread of zebra mussels in American freshwater systems since 1988 has caused massive damage to native species and has clogged industrial intake pipes. The estimated annual economic costs are greater than $200 million. Ann Bartuska cited a study that identified the accumulation in the United States over the past century of more than 200 “economically significant” invasive forest insects and diseases (see Figure 2-1).2 Some of these may have entered the country with other species introduced intentionally, for example, for use in gardens or aquaria. Others may have entered entirely accidentally, for example, through packing material or fodder.
Further economic costs can be incurred for agricultural systems through changes in the broader ecosystems of which they are part, such as loss of pollinators and predators. Alison Power explored both how agricultural practices can be threatened through broader environmental changes and how agriculture itself affects habitats, nutrient and water supplies, and soil health. Rodney Brown similarly emphasized the necessity of taking a complete systems approach in understanding “the inescapable interconnectedness of agriculture’s different roles and functions.”
The potential for rapid evolutionary changes, both reversible and irreversible, was demonstrated by Michael Donoghue and Andrew Hendry, who described recent results documenting the subtle effects of invasive species, and overexploitation. 3 For example, introduced, nonnative weed species of Persicaria have hybridized with native species in South America to create invasive “superweeds”;4 and hunting pressure for trophies has resulted in the evolution of bighorn sheep that have smaller horns (Figure 2-2). Such shifts, which are rapid in the context of background rates of evolutionary change, have now been documented in a variety of vertebrates (fish, frogs, lizards, birds, mammals), as well as in plants, but may be even more rapid
2 Holmes, T., J. Aukema, B. Von Holle, A. M. Liebhold, E. Sills. 2009. Economic impacts of invasive species in forests: Past, present, and future. In The Year in Ecology and Conservation Biology, Ostfeld and Schlesinger, eds. New York: New York Academy of Sciences.
3 Hendry, A. et al. 2008. Human influences on rates of phenotypic change in wild animal populations. Molecular Ecology 17:20–29.
4 Kim, S-T., S. E. Sultan, and M. J. Donoghue. 2008. Allopolyploid speciation. In Persicaria (Polygonaceae): Insights from a low-copy nuclear marker. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 105: 12370–12375.
FIGURE 2-1 Increases in invasive forest insects and diseases.
SOURCE: Ann Bartuska presentation, from U.S. Forest Service, Department of Agriculture
As part of an analysis by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis of the economic impacts of invasive forest insects and diseases, 396 invasive species were listed, and their dates of introduction were plotted as cumulative introductions over time by feeding guild. The average overall is 2 per year, showing that improvements in regulation, detection, and eradication are just keeping up with increases in trade. “Economically significant” pests were defined as those causing damage greater than $25,000. Note that the increase in wood borers since 1980 may result from an upsurge in container shipping, which pathway uses a lot of wood-packing material.
Ann Bartuska, February 11, 2009
FIGURE 2-2 The effect of trophy hunting of bighorn rams on heritable characteristics.
SOURCE: Andrew Hendry presentation; adapted from Coltman, D. W. et al. 2003. Undesirable evolutionary consequences of trophy hunting. Nature 426:655–658.
Humans do things specifically to populations that drive their evolutionary change. The best example is harvesting of populations, whether it be fish, or other animals, or snow lotuses. This is an example from Ram Mountain in Alberta, where there is a small population of bighorn sheep that are targeted by trophy hunters. They are only allowed to kill sheep with a horn size that passes a certain point. Over 30 years, the mean horn length is going down quite substantially. The same thing has been happening with harvested fish populations.
Andrew Hendry, February 11, 2009
and profound in smaller organisms with rapid life cycles (bacteria, fungi, planktonic organisms, and so on).
Current models of environmental change frequently assume little or no evolutionary change or adaptation. Several speakers noted that better understanding of the evolutionary responses of organisms as conditions change and populations or species respond through evolution, migration, or
extinction may offer insights for predicting ecosystem change, particularly when integrated with knowledge from deeper history of past patterns of migration, evolution, and extinction. For example, the discovery of specific responses to changing environmental parameters, such as the ability or inability to shift flowering time in response to climate changes, can help in assessing the vulnerabilities of species and ecosystems as the world changes around them.
Regarding microbial systems, where analytical abilities have been especially limited until recently, new insights from new methods have implications at all levels, from global engineering to public health. Paul Falkowski, in his presentation entitled “Don’t Touch Those Dials!,” enjoined scientists and policy makers to be cautious in proposing large-scale tinkering with the fundamentals of microbial systems that have evolved over billions of years and perform vital global biogeochemical regulatory functions through poorly understood biogeochemical systems. At a completely different scale, Ann Marie Kimball showed how rapid evolution facilitates the spread of disease-causing microbes, which can move rapidly as they adapt to new environments and also respond quickly to disease-prevention measures (e.g., resistance to antibiotics). Rapid evolution at the level of microbes and microbial systems, according to Scott Barrett, can pose special challenges, for example, in requiring coordinated international efforts to eradicate diseases.
These observations highlight opportunities for productive research, to understand both the new evolutionary and ecological circumstances of our modern world and the possible evolutionary and ecological consequences. James P. Collins emphasized that the rapid changes and evolving pressures on ecosystems required a new, cyber-enabled observing system, one that includes hybrid operational and research platforms and standardized infrastructure, procedures, and quality control. Long-term measurements, he said, could allow tracking of changes. Open data policies would allow for research that could vastly increase understanding of ecosystems, and lead to the development of effective decision support tools. The need for such tools was also emphasized by Ann Bartuska, who underlined the importance of understanding and predicting ecosystem change to underpin policy, to justify regulation or interventions, and to help develop effective mitigation measures.
Many symposium participants called for improved systems thinking in learning about how ecosystems work and are changing. Without such a systems approach, subtle and dynamic changes and interconnections will often be overlooked. In those cases, the full implications of proposed
management interventions will be incompletely considered, and unforeseen consequences may be difficult to alter.
We do have to realize that in many parts of the world where we today find the greatest diversity of life, also some of the largest protected areas and parts of our landscape that are set aside specifically for biodiversity conservation, involve developing countries.
Achim Steiner, February 11, 2009
The U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973 was predicated on the principle that endangered species should be saved at any cost. Nonetheless, even in the face of such a broad and unlimited commitment and many successful instances of species and ecosystem conservation that have been implemented over many decades, the extinction of species in our nation and globally remains an urgent problem.
Though extinctions are increasingly well documented, and while many experts acknowledge that the intensity of extinction will increase, many speakers offered compelling arguments that it is in human self-interest to preserve as much as possible. Different ecosystem services, argued Sandra Díaz, depend on different characteristics of the organisms present in the ecosystem—and many are not well understood. Speakers offered many examples of the importance of biodiversity in maintaining key ecosystem services, from the provision of stable water supplies to the stabilization of local climate. Several speakers also noted that some of these services have been degraded or carelessly destroyed in the process of human settlement and development, and that often they can be re-created only at great cost. Christian Körner showed one subtle example of an apparently nondescript species of grass that, nonetheless, engineers the edge of soil banks and thereby significantly influences erosion and hydrology in the Alpine landscapes of Switzerland. Adaptation strategies that maintain ecosystem services in the face of climate change and increasing population pressures, he said, will likely draw on different species in different combinations than they occur today. Ensuring that a broad spectrum of biodiversity resources remain available as a basis for both natural and human adaptation argues for developing strategies to preserve as much as possible.
Many symposium attendees called for various mitigation and adapta-
tion strategies as climate and other environmental changes intensify, emphasizing that such strategies should be founded on the best possible scientific understanding of the different dimensions of biodiversity, the functioning of ecosystems, and the rate and scope of changes in both. A variety of strategies, implemented at appropriate scales, could engage stakeholders locally while also leveraging support at national and international levels.
A long-standing approach has been to preserve biodiversity in protected areas that have been chosen based on a great range of criteria. However, both José Sarukhán and Rodger Schlickeisen emphasized that most biodiversity will nonetheless lie outside protected areas, often in human-dominated landscapes, and in these circumstances will require different kinds of approaches to conservation. Some of the species found in managed landscapes are domesticates or species that thrive in proximity to people and the kinds of environments they create. However, many others are among the wild species currently most at risk from anthropogenic stresses. Several speakers emphasized that these nonpristine reservoirs of biological diversity should not be neglected. Dr. Sarukhán described how building community awareness and encouraging local action have served as important complements to improved data and bioinformatics, as well as reserves, in greatly enhancing biodiversity protection within Mexico.
Many speakers observed that some protected areas will be compromised by changes in climate or other environmental parameters, such as habitat fragmentation or degradation related to development. In these changing circumstances, current protected areas may no longer be suitable for particular species. To avoid the destruction of the population or species, wildlife corridors, such as those deployed in the Amazon and described by Yadvinder Malhi, can allow migration and support survival, though they also require careful planning to avoid facilitating the penetration of invasive species (see Box 2-3). In other cases, Stephen Schneider and Christian Körner suggested, direct human intervention might be needed, for example, when a warming climate results in particular conditions shifting upward in altitude. In different cases, Dr. Körner suggested that the mountains may represent “refugia, traps, or a survival opportunity” for threatened species. Some species may survive by moving up slope in response to changing climate,5 but others may have no appropriate habitat available at higher levels. Schneider noted that transporting such “trapped” species to a com-
5 Lenoir, J. et al. 2008. A Significant Upward Shift in Plant Species Optimum Elevation During the 20th Century. Science 320:1768–1771; Raxworthy, C. J. et al. 2008. Extinction vulnerability of tropical montane endemism from warming and upslope displacement: A
Maintaining Tropical Forest Area Is a Strategy for
Mitigating and Adapting to Climate Change
• Minimize contact points between forest fragments and fire zones
• Lower surface temperatures because of evaporative cooling of near-surface area
• Maintain shade habitats
• Maintain dry season rainfall
• Maintain connectivity for species migration to highland refugia
SOURCE: Yadvinder Malhi presentation
Maintaining large areas of intact forest in eastern Amazonia is a strategy for not only conserving biodiversity and mitigating the rate of global change but also increasing the resilience of the region to local climate change, through maintaining regional rainfall, lowering surface temperatures, and providing migration corridors for species.
Yadvinder Malhi, February 12, 2009
patible environment may sometimes be effective for conservation, but at the same time raises ethical issues, and opens the possibility of unintended ecological consequences.
Ex situ conservation offers an additional insurance policy, especially in our current time of rapid change and when future patterns of land use, climate, or other key variables are uncertain. Peter Crane cited the critical role of the ex situ conservation efforts carried out by seed banks, botanical gardens, and zoos as both “insurance” and “last chance” repositories of genetic resources.6 Dr. Crane also emphasized the importance of more fully engaging the expertise and information residing in botanic gardens and
preliminary appraisal for the highest massif in Madagascar. Global Change Biology 14:8, 1703–1720.
6 The Millennium Seed Bank Project—coordinated by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew—and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault are high-profile examples of two such conservation initiatives since the 1990s. Together, hundreds of millions of stored seeds already preserve the genetic diversity of tens of thousands of plant species and millions of accessions of key crops.
natural history museums to understand the full dimensions of biological diversity.
There are some simple things that we can do to buy us time. Seed banking is extremely important for the world’s crop species, and surely also for the world’s wild plant species. We shouldn’t wait until extinction is at the door before we undertake that kind of action.
Peter Crane, February 12, 2009
Rodger Schlickeisen called for cooperation between public and private entities, and between scientists and advocates, to develop and realize appropriate strategies for biodiversity and ecosystem protection. He joined Cristián Samper in arguing that broadening public engagement and awareness is crucial, on the basis that policy makers will act only in response to the public’s awareness of biodiversity loss as a problem. The loss of biodiversity and the rapid transformation of landscapes is often most apparent between generations, as parents consider the environment that they remember compared to the world they are passing on to their children. Several participants called for enhanced awareness of the rapidity of such changes in the broader context of nature. Dr. Schlickeisen, the final speaker, echoed the opening remarks of Peter Raven, and many other speakers, by calling on scientists to raise the issue of biodiversity loss in every relevant forum, to broaden awareness of the evidence connecting biodiversity and ecosystems to well-being. He emphasized the need to ensure that the ongoing transformation of the biological world, which is driven by human activity, receives the same attention as the transformation of the climate and the economy. These systems, which are all crucial for sustaining and improving human well-being, are inextricably linked.
We need as a people to speak up.…We need to reinvent wildlife conservation in America and in the world. The old way of doing things is not working. We’re just scratching the surface of how we address climate change in the face of all these other threats to wildlife. We ought to be looking not in the rearview mirror but out of the windshield, using models, to plan for floods and wildlife preservation.
Larry Schweiger, February 12, 2009
Policy makers, assessment groups, agencies, and commissions, among others, need to be better coordinated to take into account the interactions among the drivers of global change, and their separate and synergistic impacts.
Stephen Schneider, February 12, 2009
The value of ecosystems for human well-being extends from meeting fundamental human utilitarian needs, such as shelter or medicine, to the more sublime human requirements for a sense of place, spiritual or aesthetic fulfillment, or a moral commitment to stewardship. Several symposium participants pointed out that human populations flourish only within a relatively narrow climatic range, and all human life depends on the food and clean water provided by biological systems. Human history is filled with examples of the unexpected and unwelcome consequences of human activities that are channeled to fill these or other needs while ignoring the complexity of the systems required to provide those goods and services over the long term. Paul Falkowski described how oceanic microbes drove the initial development of Earth’s oxygen-rich atmosphere and continue to regulate its functioning in ways that are only just becoming clear, and he cautioned against tinkering with that system through geoengineering.
Even one of the most fundamental of all provisioning functions—food production—is both extraordinarily complex and surprisingly fragile. Industrial food systems are profoundly different from traditional, small-scale farming and livestock management, and insofar as they reflect a particular form of land use, a number of speakers described how that use involves trade-offs with other benefits that the land might provide, such as energy from biofuels or the maintenance of clean water systems by forests. Many speakers emphasized the complexity of the systems on which human well-being depends, and the importance of carefully considering the unintentional and often cascading negative effects of specific management decisions. Stephen Schneider illustrated this point in the climate context. He noted that local limitations on the capacity to adapt needed to be considered in parallel with the development of target concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide. He cited studies showing increases in California wildfires in years of early snowmelt runoff—an increasingly high-probability occur-
rence in a warming climate. He also noted the detrimental health effects of widespread wildfire smoke.
Several speakers also emphasized that many mitigation strategies that might be developed as responses to climate change depend heavily on ecosystem services. Harold Mooney pointed out that carbon markets and other economic incentives aimed at decreasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere depend fundamentally, at present, on plant physiology. The detrimental effects of carbon markets on other ecosystem services are already being observed. Yadvinder Malhi noted the possibilities for perverse trade-offs in the Amazon, such as some proposed incentives for carbon governance that maximize carbon storage without considering the many other ecosystem services of forests, which have the potential to damage, rather than preserve, tropical forest functioning. Moreover, Philip Robertson pointed out that the U.S. Energy Policy Act of 2007, which stipulates that ethanol must make up 22 percent of transportation fuel by 2022, requires that grain-based ethanol production more than double between 2007 and 2022 (from 6.4 to 15 billion gallons per year). The act also requires even larger cellulosic ethanol production (16–21 billion gallons per year) from technologies that are not yet commercially viable. Several speakers observed that potentially well-intentioned goals such as these are likely to have serious ramifications for land and water use. The development of policies to guide the law’s implementation calls for an understanding of the complex biological, biochemical, and biophysical systems that are affected and a more expansive view of the systemic risks inherent in managing complex ecological systems for a narrow suite of outputs.
Agricultural systems, whether used for food, fiber, or fuel, should likewise be considered within a broader context of the complex landscape-scale ecological systems in which they are embedded. Alison Power described how agricultural systems both use and produce ecosystem services (Figure 2-3). They are dependent upon, and influence, soil structure, nutrient cycling, water provision, and genetic diversity. They are intimately connected to a range of ecological services such as water supply, soil conservation, climate change mitigation, and wildlife habitat that are not currently captured in a comprehensive way either by the market or by appropriate policy and regulatory systems. As several speakers noted, agricultural policies that do not consider the systemic effects and risks of the practices that they encour-
FIGURE 2-3 Ecosystem services and agriculture.
SOURCE: Alison Power presentation, Box 2-9 adapted from Zhang, W., Ricketts, T. H., Kremen, C., Carney, K. & Swinton, S. M. 2007. Ecosystem services and dis-services to Bitmapped agriculture. Ecological Economics 64:253-260.
Agricultural systems both rely on and provide ecosystem services. If you are mindful of these kinds of aspects of services when you design agriculture, you can mitigate these disservices. What is important to understand is that the arrows should be going both ways. Agriculture can either support these services in the landscape or detract from these services. It should be a two-way system between agricultural ecosystems and the supporting and regulating services.
Alison Power, February 12, 2009
age can have undesirable consequences. David Tilman’s prepared remarks7 warned how biofuel strategies could conflict with projections of new crop and pastureland requirements of 1 to 1.5 billion hectares to meet food de-
7 David Tilman was unable to attend the symposium, but a summary of his presentation was given by the session chair.
mand over the next 50 years. He stated that the combined effects on other ecosystem services could be devastating without equally important parallel strategies of increasing agricultural yields, especially in developing countries; reforming meat production systems; and carefully targeting biofuels programs to already-cleared or degraded lands.
Globalization of the agricultural system also means that it is affected by the global trade system, which, as Ann Marie Kimball pointed out, leads to difficulties in containing hazards that, in the past, would have had effects only locally. Changes in practices and increasing trade in foodstuffs mean that both dangerous products (such as tainted meats and vegetables) and pathogens (such as antibiotic-resistant microbes) can be transmitted around the world very rapidly.
Direct harvesting of food from the sea, several participants said, is also threatened by systems of utilization and management that are not sufficiently cognizant of the ecosystem context from which fish are extracted. Marine wild fisheries are changing rapidly, both in response to increasingly efficient capture technologies and as a result of changing global climate. Boris Worm described the challenges confronting contemporary fisheries management, where wild fisheries output is decreasing and the number of commercial stocks that are threatened is increasing; species-specific regulation has not effectively controlled the decline in fisheries. Mary Glackin added a list of broad threats to marine biodiversity, including ocean acidification, sea-level rise, loss of sea ice, and changes in marine species distributions, adding that other issues such as shipping, marine sonar, and energy exploration and development also have ecosystem consequences that are not yet fully addressed by appropriate policies (see Box 2-4). Both Ms. Glackin and Dr. Worm highlighted opportunities to improve fisheries conservation through better governance, elimination of harmful subsidies, and establishment of protected areas. They expressed hope that ecosystem-based management approaches presently being enacted could make a difference. These two speakers noted that the complexity of the systems, along with the uncertainty surrounding climate effects and ocean acidification, requires that, even as new management systems are instituted, they be carefully monitored and adjusted to ensure their efficacy.
Rebecca Goldburg provided a complementary look at aquaculture production, which has grown exponentially since the 1980s, often with demonstrably adverse environmental consequences. In large part, that growth has depended on the provision of cheap fish-meal feed, which has a variety of associated problems. She said that making aquaculture sustainable will
Changes in the Marine Environment and Associated
• Ocean acidification
• Sea-level rise
• Changes in freshwater in coastal areas
• Loss of sea ice (at both poles)
• Ocean warming and changes in circulation
Marine Sound and Vessel Traffic
• Oil and gas exploration
• Endocrine disruptors
• Marine debris
Coastal Habitat Loss and Nutrient Enrichment
• Harmful algal blooms
• Loss of sea grasses
SOURCE: Mary Glackin presentation
NOAA [National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration] is engaged in the study and management of numerous emerging threats to marine biodiversity. Climate change impacts are an umbrella for several threats, such as ocean acidification, sea-level rise, changes in freshwater, and loss of sea ice. Marine sound and vessel traffic become more widespread as problems as more areas of the ocean become navigable, raising the potential for additional impacts on biodiversity, particularly from energy exploration. The general issue of pollution includes marine debris that can be ingested or entangle animals, but also the introduction of certain chemicals. In coastal regions, dead zones caused by nutrient enrichment can cause loss of habitat (e.g., sea-grass beds) because of the anoxic environment they create, and harmful algal blooms can cause economic and ecosystem problems.
Mary Glackin, February 11, 2009
require resolving environmental issues related to the placement of fish farms as well as addressing the sources of fish-farm feeds. Again, systems thinking, and development of appropriate strategies to improve technical and other issues, were called for by the speaker.
Ecosystem services must be part of the national debate, and among those services is the power of nature to inspire awe and wonder.
Larry Schweiger, February 12, 2009
The complexity and interconnectedness of all these systems drove many speakers to urge policy makers to take into account the fullest possible suite of ecosystem services in their management decisions. They repeatedly emphasized the systemic risks inherent in basing policy and management on simplistic views of inherently complex systems. Achim Steiner also reminded the group that no consideration of ecosystem services can neglect the need to alleviate poverty, and Peter Raven further noted that “science cannot prescribe solutions that circumscribe human aspirations for a better life for themselves and their families.” In other words, while every decision, ultimately, will respond to human needs and aspirations, many of which are conflicting, only improved awareness of the full ecological ramifications of different policy approaches offers a chance to satisfy those aspirations without further endangering the long-term health of the planet.
Transformative action in our economies to deal with climate change, and to ultimately stop global warming and reverse it, is inextricably linked to the biodiversity and ecosystem sphere. Indeed, global warming has most of its impact in the context of our biosphere.
Achim Steiner, February 11, 2009
A major contribution of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) was to develop a conceptual framework for understanding the benefits that people derive from functioning ecosystems. Provisioning services comprise the largely consumptive use of managed ecosystems to produce foods, fuels, fibers, pharmaceuticals, and other materials. Cultural services comprise the largely nonconsumptive use of ecosystems—often in a more
“natural” state—for recreational, aesthetic, spiritual, scientific, or cultural purposes. Regulating services refer to the role of ecosystems in moderating the variability in the supply of both the cultural and provisioning services, and include such crucial processes as soil retention and pollination. The last set of services identified by the MA, supporting services, are the ecosystem processes that underpin the production of all other services. 8
The definition of these services offers a framework for incorporating ecosystem science more effectively into policy, not only in the environmental realm but also in agriculture, public health, and disaster management. As noted under Theme 1, CONABIO has worked to bridge the gap between academia, civil society, and decision makers in a country that is highly diverse both ecologically and culturally. Jose Sarukhán described how CONABIO has synthesized, promoted, and supported studies on the biodiversity of Mexico, and has converted basic taxonomic, biogeographic, and ecological data into information that is useful for Mexican decision makers from local to national levels. While national in concept, this approach has also provided benefits at the community level, where much of the nation’s natural capital is owned and managed. At the same time, it has also helped policy makers to formulate national approaches that address conservation and resource management problems based on sound science.
From India comes a fascinating example where the GDP [gross domestic product] of the poor is estimated to be 57 percent dependent on nature and ecosystem services.…We need to look at the equity and the dependence, particularly of poorer communities in how much their ability to rise out of poverty and to develop rural economies will depend on the degree to which national and international policy making make biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services an explicit part of [international] agreements.
Achim Steiner, February 11, 2009
In the United States, agencies that have long relied on scientific input to guide their decisions in areas as different as fisheries and land management are likewise adapting the MA framework to broaden their approach and to attempt to consider a wider suite of the services provided by ecosystems. Mary Glackin described how fisheries managers are extending and
8 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. 2005. Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Synthesis. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute.
supplanting their species-by-species fisheries management with broader approaches based on integrated, ecosystem-based assessments. She stressed the importance of enforceable legal instruments, such as those governing marine fisheries, marine mammals, and endangered species, all of which clearly enunciate the critical role of sustainable ecosystem management. Ms. Glackin went on to note that achieving such goals requires thorough understanding of adaptation and change in marine ecosystems in response to modifications of both physical and biological systems and the ways that they are managed. She emphasized that “the United States and its international partners need to implement agreements and provide the resources to support them” through sustained investment and cooperation in observing systems, ecosystem analysis, and ongoing adaptive management in response to new understanding.
Several symposium participants called for improved science and analysis during discussions on invasive species, where explosive increases in trade and other cross-border exchanges have led to increased opportunities for nonindigenous species to damage crops, ecosystems, and health. Ann Bartuska explained the barriers to control of potentially harmful organisms. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service bans importation of “injurious wildlife,” and horticultural plants can be blacklisted if they are known to be noxious weeds or if they may carry pests. Success, however, is only partial, and most invaders remain unrecognized until they are already well established. There is, she said, “usually someone who wants to import without restriction: The nursery industry wants free rein to explore remote regions and import new exotics, and can achieve considerable cost savings by producing plants for retail sale overseas. It is not reasonable to restrict these rights without technical justification.” However, she explained, establishing such justification in every case is time consuming, costly, and fraught with uncertainty. Similarly, precautionary interventions that she described against incidental importation of pests, such as ballast water exchange or fumigation of logs and packing materials, impose significant costs on importers.
Christopher Costello noted that control of invasions after they are detected carries less political risk, since it is impossible to prove that you have prevented a harmful and costly invasion. However, proactive measures to prevent invasions are generally more cost effective. He also cited studies showing that “nonindigenous invasive species risk varies across trade partner, product, time, and delivery mechanism.” Dr. Costello suggested that relatively “blunt instruments,” such as fumigation or ballast water exchange, could be made even more effective and less costly by the development of
more nuanced regulatory regimes based on understanding ecosystems and analyzing the history of invasions.9
To meet these challenges, David Lodge described advances in risk modeling that allow the prediction of the risk to ecosystems from the import of living organisms, and suggested ways of incorporating those analyses rated into effective policy design. Crucial elements include assessment of the relative costs of prevention versus control, combined with empirical research that includes historical patterns and biogeographic-climatic similarities among trading partners.
Some speakers described a comparable need for a precautionary and adaptive approach to climate change. Andrew Revkin noted that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has evolved from being dominated by atmospheric science and energy emissions scenarios to incorporating much more biological, social, and biogeochemical science, in large part because of new emphasis on the specific issues of atmospheric carbon dioxide mitigation, adaptation to climate change effects, and biofuels (as a special case of carbon dioxide mitigation). As Harold Mooney noted, the only proven, large-scale carbon capture and storage mechanisms rely on biological processes. Several speakers described how enhancing such carbon sequestration requires a thorough understanding of how ecosystems work, from microbial mechanisms in forest soils and oceanic plankton that absorb and store carbon, to the complex interactions among species that sustain tropical forests. Climate shifts and land-use changes can select for species with particular combinations of life history characteristics and, as Sandra Díaz explained, the provision of ecosystem services can be affected in unforeseen ways.
Different ecosystem services depend on different characteristics of the organisms present in the ecosystem. Some depend on the dominant characteristic; some, on the variety of characteristics. Some ecosystem services need vast tracts of land; others, only tiny pockets. Not all ecosystem services can be simultaneously maintained in the same place. Different people value different aspects, and that can cause human conflicts.
Sandra Díaz, February 12, 2009
9 Costello, C., M. Springborn, C. McAusland, and A. Solow. 2007. Unintended biological invasions: Does risk vary by trading partner? Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 54(3):262–276.
Meeting global food demand in the face of a growing and more affluent global population, several speakers noted, while at the same time increasing the use of biofuels and adapting to climate change in other ways, will create new requirements for crop and pasture land and offer new challenges for maintaining ecosystem services. Allison Power described research into modified agricultural practices that minimize damage to ecosystem services, while Philip Robertson explored the possibilities for new agricultural landscapes, developed to support a cellulosic biofuels industry and maximize carbon accumulation, as well as sustain food production and rural communities.
Numerous speakers described the obstacles to broadening the use of ecosystem science in policy, which will require that policy makers and the public understand both the economic value and the intangible value of ecosystem services. Some economists, as highlighted in the presentation by Steve Polasky, are building on the analyses of the MA to develop approaches for valuing nature in monetary terms. By integrating ecology and economics, they aim to provide unambiguous economic signals regarding the consequences of particular actions or policy choices, including influences on ecosystems and biodiversity, as well as effects on private-sector actors. These challenges for economic research and policy are discussed in more detail under Theme 8.
Scientists have to figure out ways to translate the complexities of systems science for nonscientists, especially policy makers. Because we are committed to being rational actors, we know that there are generalizations that we can identify and principles that we can use to organize ideas and communicate them more effectively than we’ve ever done before. As scientists interested in biodiversity trying to communicate with policy makers, our first job (to paraphrase the mission of the Dumbarton Oaks Library) is “to clarify an ever-changing present,” and then try to “inform the future with [just a little bit of] wisdom” that we’ve learned from our studies.
James P. Collins, February 12, 2009
A key barrier to successful use of science by policy makers is less-than-effective communication and translation of scientific advice. Policy makers need scientific information that is readily understood and tailored to the particular issues and questions that are being addressed. Speakers charged
the scientific community with supplying the necessary information in an appropriate form, and placing it in an appropriate context. For ecosystem management, the challenge is heightened by the inherent complexity of ecological systems and the interconnectedness of the biological, economic, and regulatory systems involved, at a variety of spatial scales from local and regional to national and international.
If scientists are not thinking more creatively about how to convey their own story—and I emphasize “story” then we are in trouble. People need to understand that science is not just a set of facts, that the trajectory of science is based on argument.…It is important, as journalists and scientists, to focus people on trajectory as the story develops.”
Andrew Revkin, February 12, 2009
Some of the impediments to integrating scientific advice more closely with policy development are inherent in the scientific culture. Bruce Babbitt enjoined scientists to expand their efforts to explore the policy ramifications of their scientific results. He emphasized that the fear of appearing to be “advocates” if they stray too far from the specifics of their results in their policy discussions can be overdone and can be counterproductive to expanding the influence of scientific research. A related issue, identified by James P. Collins, is that devoting time and energy to the policy applications of scientific work does not necessarily result in professional advancement. In some instances, he said, scientists may even be penalized if such work detracts from their other professional efforts or if it is taken on too early in their careers, before their position is fully secure. Dr. Collins proposed that funders and administrators, as well as tenure and promotion committees, develop new approaches and systems of rewards to encourage more policy interaction and team-driven, as well as individual-driven, research. Andrew Revkin further suggested that every scientist should be thinking of ways to make his or her research understandable by the public. All three speakers emphasized the need to foster a community of science-policy professionals who are respected within the scientific community and who can also serve as conduits for effective scientific advice to policy makers.
One avenue for developing such a community, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Congressional Fellowships Program, has injected hundreds of scientists into the policy process, and the alumni of those fellowships are found throughout the government and in
science policy support positions, from the halls of Congress to senior agency staff, to the National Academy of Sciences, to NGOs. The importance of the program, which has been in existence since the 1970s, is coming into clearer focus as the science and technology elements of critical issues facing the nation and the world have grown in complexity and importance. Many symposium attendees noted with regret that the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship Program has no fellows who are sponsored by societies in the fields of ecology and organismal biology.
Incorporating science into environmental decision making within developing countries presents a particular and significant challenge, as numerous speakers pointed out, because much of the planet’s biodiversity is located in the world’s least developed nations. CONABIO (Box 2-1) offers a valuable model, and Mary Glackin cited the “critical need for capacity building for marine biodiversity protection in developing countries.” Unfortunately, the capacity of many national governments both to monitor environmental change and to take domestic measures that serve both the national and the global public good (e.g., control of infectious diseases, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, greenhouse gas mitigation) is currently limited. Continuing and intensifying efforts to build capacity in developing countries will generate benefits not just to the citizens of those countries but to developed countries as well.
Prepare for an uncertain future: a world of rapid changes in climate and vegetation, a world of increasing extreme events, a world of regime shifts, a world of weeds and diseases.
Harold Mooney, February 11, 2009
In his opening remarks to the symposium, Harold Mooney offered the prospect of significant and ongoing changes to the biosphere as a result of economic development, population growth, and climate change. He emphasized that we face the increasing prospect of a world of rapid change; a world of rising seas and acidifying oceans; a world that has been “diced and replumbed,” with increasing nitrogen and phosphorus redistribution; a world of venture capital moving quickly among nations to places of investment “opportunity” and often environmental sensitivity.
The presentations that followed in the next two days reiterated and
expanded upon many of these themes, with a dual emphasis on strategies for mitigating the impacts of massive environmental change and pathways toward adaptation, so that ecosystem services are maintained despite unavoidable changes. Stephen Schneider introduced the discussion of climate with an emphatic call for treating adaptation and mitigation “as complements, not trade-offs, since both biogeophysical and social systems have inertia on the order of decades.” Schneider forcefully advocated the development of technologies and strategies that will take us quickly past an emissions peak and into a phase of decline, as soon as possible. Equally important, he called for adaptation strategies based on place- and system-based studies that examine regional, sectoral, and group vulnerabilities to environmental change. These local studies could be integrated with global and regional climate change predictions to provide guidance for policy makers.
Many speakers emphasized the contribution that science can make to understanding such substantial environmental change and its causes, as well as the opportunity to use that understanding to increase societal resilience. Others examined the barriers to the application of these scientific findings, some resulting from broader societal and political resistance, others due to difficulties in engaging and communicating with the public. Journalist Andrew Revkin described the challenges of “growing population, growing complexity, and growing consumptive impact on this earth,” and cited studies indicating that “even a well-educated person tends to go out into the media environment and find the information that reinforces what they already believe.” He contended that no story that he will write, and no study that scientists will produce, will show people “in a crystal-clear, simple way, that this is the problem, this is the solution.” However, as Defenders of Wildlife President Rodger Schlickeisen stated, “politicians won’t save biodiversity until it’s popular enough to put on a t-shirt.” Increasing societal capacity to grasp the magnitude of current environmental disruptions and to adapt to environmental change resides in both scientific progress and improved public engagement.
Speaker presentations returned again and again to the close connections between human and natural systems. Human travel and trade have offered openings to pests and pathogens; overfishing has generated changes in marine ecosystems that are undermining the livelihoods of coastal peoples; intensive agriculture has transformed landscapes over much of the world; and climate change is testing the adaptive capacities of both organisms and ecosystems. In every case cited, new technologies are key drivers that have created opportunities to improve important aspects of human well-being,
while at the same time creating new challenges and threats, the cumulative effect of which is vast.
The many cases of invasive species documented around the world offer graphic and well-understood instances of the need to maintain the resilience of local ecosystems to introduced species and the difficulties of doing so. Justin Ward summarized the threats to ecosystems posed by increasing economic globalization in his introduction to the session on trade, pests, and pathogens. The session’s speakers described the scientific research and monitoring and economic studies needed to guide more effective policy. The goal of the proposed policies would be to maximize the resilience of ecosystem services in the face of increased threats of invasion (see Box 2-5).
The food provisioning services offer another example of the importance of equipping society to deal more effectively with ecosystem change. Rodney Brown cited the role that technology has played in an approximately fourfold increase in agricultural productivity of major commodity crops since 1950. To address the food needs of populations that might increase by 50 percent by 2050, that trend will need to continue, and both Dr. Brown and Allison Power agreed that genomics offers an important tool in reaching that goal. However, during that same period, the effects of agricultural systems on other ecosystem services have become increasingly evident. Dr. Brown described an evolution in agricultural studies from a state of what a colleague had termed “natural enmity” with natural sciences to the present,
Successful Early Detection and Rapid Response
• Agile organizations
• Readily available funding
• Cadre of volunteers and partners
• Effective detection, identification, and control technology
• Technology developed before arrival
The characteristics of a successful EDRR policy for mitigating the damage from invasive species, presented by Ann Bartuska, February 11, 2009.
in which biologists and agronomists increasingly cooperate to understand the full suite of ecosystem services of which food production is a part.
Alison Power described research that could help farmers and agribusiness deal with changes in pest control requirements, or adapt agricultural landscapes to better facilitate wildlife preservation. However, to transform the management of agricultural systems in ways that consider the full range of ecosystem services, these and similar research results will have to reach the farmers and agricultural business executives who make the production decisions. Research will also need to be bolstered by regulatory interventions and incentives to provide these services, Dr. Power said. She emphasized the potentially positive role that the system of land grant colleges and agricultural extension services could play in encouraging the adoption of new approaches. While the traditional role of these institutions in advising farming communities has emphasized maximizing production in the context of local, national, and international policies and markets, these extension offices are now especially well positioned to assist in the engagement and outreach needed to adjust current systems toward a more sustainable approach while also adjusting to the realities of climate change and the need to sustain ecosystem services.
We need to take a new look at biodiversity, and develop a new and much more positive outlook. Instead of seeing the preservation of biodiversity as a heinous, expensive task without reward, view biodiversity correctly as the source of innovations for the coming century and the solutions to many of the problems facing humanity. Our lives depend on knowing about it and taking advantage of it.
Michael Donoghue, February 11, 2009
Improved decision making is required for human society to adapt to these and other changes, and this will depend on enhancing the capacity to predict the consequences of current actions, and to understand the ways in which the future will differ from the past. Sandra Díaz described the need for conservation of sufficient levels of functional diversity to provide critical ecosystem services over a wide range of environmental conditions. She asserted that there is sufficient evidence of the mechanistic links between biodiversity in the broad sense and ecosystem processes and services to justify the protection of the biotic integrity of ecosystems. However, the role of different aspects of biodiversity in specific types of ecosystem functioning
is still not well understood. New models of biodiversity change are needed, Dr. Díaz said, that extend our understanding of the interaction among global economics, biodiversity, and climate change; and adaptation strategies must be able to respond to evolution in knowledge. Larry Schweiger joined Andrew Revkin and Christian Körner in enjoining scientists to help communicate to the public the breadth of systemic risks faced by twenty-first century ecosystems, so that integrated thinking about the services that ecosystems provide becomes an integral part of the national debate on climate, development, and consumption.
States have, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law, the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental policies, and the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction. Convention on Biological Diversity, Article 3
Cited by Harold Mooney, February. 11, 2009
In every session, one or more of the talks cited the need for coordinated multistakeholder and multijurisdictional action for the effective management of biodiversity and ecosystems. For policy to be effective in preserving biodiversity and its associated ecosystem services, they said, cooperation is needed across multiple sectors and jurisdictions, from the local to the international, and with diverse stakeholders, from local communities and small landholders to national governments and international agencies. In the opening session, which posed the challenges of the twenty-first century and examined emerging research and approaches to deal with them, José Sarukhán cited the work of CONABIO that uses informatics approaches to inform conservation and land use decisions from the local to the national levels in Mexico. During the discussion on invasive species and trade, Ann Bartuska and Ann Marie Kimball highlighted the need for regulatory action spanning the local to international levels in controlling invasive species, whether the threats they pose are to agriculture and forests or to public health. The diversity of the issues emphasized that every sector must play
a part in an inclusive strategy to manage the living world in the face of the challenges posed by human activities.
United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Executive Director Achim Steiner noted the complexity of the current international regime, where more than 500 international environmental agreements address a myriad of issues with environmental dimensions, including trade; human, plant, and animal health; conservation; and specific biomes, habitats, resources, and species. This complexity, he noted, is a significant challenge. Leadership is necessary to improve the functioning of these agreements and to introduce greater coherence to the disparate goals of different sectoral approaches. Very often the interconnections among the issues covered by distinct agreements are poorly articulated or neglected entirely.
Leadership is also needed, others noted, to implement actions that will make existing international agreements function better within their own spheres of responsibility. Some speakers contended that these agreements critically need U.S. engagement and leadership, noting that the United States has not ratified several key agreements, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD). These agreements include many of the goals and strategies addressed by the speakers, but implementation is often inadequate. Moreover, several speakers charged that these and other UN mechanisms or organizations with a mandate to address international environmental issues, including UNEP, are severely underfunded, and are hampered by the lack of enforcement authority.10 Mechanisms mandated to make investments in global environmental public goods, most notably the Global Environmental Facility, are likewise insufficiently funded. Many speakers called for the United States to play a leadership role, both in securing greater global commitment to these bodies and in enhancing their effectiveness. Achim Steiner was one of the speakers who called for U.S. action, noting, “We need leadership in recognizing that developing countries need scientific support. It is no secret that the resources of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the scientific community, the universities, and the NGOs are extraordinary in comparison with what we will find in many countries across Africa.”
Beyond the existing agreements and institutions, Mr. Steiner and others emphasized that the ecosystem and biodiversity challenges that are
10 The CBD leaves specific decisions on implementation of the agreement to the parties and, like most treaties, has a dispute-resolution article, which could be invoked by any party that feels that another party has injured it by not implementing the CBD. However, that enforcement mechanism has never been used.
the principal focus of this symposium—understanding, anticipating, monitoring, and responding to changes in the global environment—urgently require international cooperation. Scott Barrett addressed some of the characteristics of successful international agreements related to the environment that drew heavily on scientific input. The successful cases that he cited, including limitations on hunting of fur seals, eradication of smallpox, and mitigation of the ozone hole, had specific characteristics on which negotiators capitalized in designing and executing the agreements. In all cases, there were strong incentives for buy-in by all relevant parties and an accepted distribution of costs. Dr. Barrett presented the similarities and differences of fisheries regulation, polio eradication, and climate change, respectively. He suggested that successful international cooperation on these issues requires high, if not universal, participation; near or total compliance; and actions that will effectively deal with the problem. Regarding the Kyoto protocol, he said that a better approach might be to negotiate separate agreements for individual sectors as well as for research and development of new technologies to help address the problems of both mitigation and adaptation.
An Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has been established to offer advice to governments on biodiversity and ecosystem issues, in a manner analogous to the IPCC’s role in climate science. 11 Given its existing expertise in environmental science, including at the local level, several speakers, including Harold Mooney and Stephen Schneider, called on the United States to play a leadership role in building this mechanism.
The role of trade in the accelerated spread of invasive species offers a complementary set of challenges and opportunities for international cooperation, and Charles Perrings asserted that U.S. leadership in this area is crucial. The World Trade Organization (WTO) has broad powers related to trade, and Mark Lonsdale explained that the WTO can be of value in controlling invasive species. Australia, for example, uses measures stipulated in the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement) to implement robust biosecurity controls. The
11 On December 20, 2010, the United Nations 65th General Assembly agreed to establish an IPBES with the following remit: (a) to identify and prioritize key scientific information needed for policy makers; (b) to perform regular and timely assessments of knowledge on biodiversity and ecosystem services; (c) to support policy formulation and implementation by identifying policy-relevant tools and methodologies; and (d) to prioritize key capacity-building needs to improve the science-policy interface. UNEP is charged with convening the first plenary of the new body in 2011. See http://IPBES.net.
idiosyncratic attributes of invasive species, as described by Dr. Lonsdale, require both risk-averse and adaptive approaches. International cooperation that includes analyses of risk, careful inspections of cargo, and effective observation systems will be necessary to control and combat invasions. Dr. Lonsdale suggested that the WTO try to evolve from an adversarial approach, grounded in jurisprudence, to a biosecurity management system that is more adaptive, cooperative, precautionary, and responsive to new information. He also noted that a key element in the acceptance of trade regulations is that they are applied domestically, as well as on imports.
Policy makers, assessment groups, agencies, commissions, et cetera, need to be better coordinated to take into account the interactions among the drivers of global change, and their separate and synergistic impacts. This would include international-level conventions, secretariats, et cetera.
Stephen Schneider, February 12, 2009
Ann Marie Kimball noted that the WTO Environment Committee needed to be strengthened to deal with biosecurity issues and that a WTO Health Committee should be established to address the diverse microbial invasions that cause both pandemics and agricultural crises. Charles Perrings suggested the establishment and funding of an international mechanism to coordinate the actions of international bodies with responsibilities for different aspects of the invasive species problem, including (in addition to the WTO) UN-related agencies with responsibility for human, animal, and plant health, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), and the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) (see Box 2-6).
The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment.
Peter Raven, February 11, 2009
(quoting ecological economist Herman Daly)
Ecosystems and biodiversity will continue to suffer as long as economic incentives promote short-term exploitation without regard for its effect on ecological externalities and for the potential long-term damage
Policies and Partnerships for Curtailing Invasive
• Enhance border surveillance against imports and exports of invasive harmful species.
• Establish and fund an interagency center to coordinate federal, state, and local efforts to prevent the export or import of invasive species, and control the spread of established species.
• Use the CBD, WTO, WHO, OIE, and IPPC to strengthen sanitary and phytosanitary requirements on exporters; the United States should take a leadership role in this effort.
• Establish an international mechanism a bit like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to provide countries with the information needed to protect themselves and their trading partners against risks associated with contaminated products, as set forth in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and SPS Agreement.
• Establish and fund an international mechanism to coordinate the actions of international bodies with responsibilities for particular aspects of the invasive species problem.
SOURCE: Charles Perrings presentation
The problem of invasive species is global, and needs to be addressed at a global level by strengthening relevant Multilateral Environmental Agreements, enhancing monitoring and information, and coordinating international responses.
Charles Perrings, February 11, 2009
caused. Of the ecosystem services identified by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, only the provisioning services are allocated through reasonably well-functioning markets that offer the private sector incentives to consider ecosystem services when they are making decisions. Even the provisioning services do not capture all the ecosystem effects of market transactions. Indeed, several speakers noted that many of the most important drivers
of biodiversity degradation and loss are externalities of markets for foods, fuels, and fibers. The cultural services, these speakers contended, are less well served by markets, and there are fewer markets still for the regulating services.
Although the CBD calls for monetizing the value of biodiversity in the context of providing access and sharing benefits, the treaty’s influence in this area has so far been limited. Insurance markets address some of the risks associated with the provisioning and cultural services, but the role of biodiversity in moderating variability in the supply of such services is rarely priced in the market. Bruce Babbitt contended that economic globalization, governed by the economic systems put into place after World War II, had been the “primary driver of environmental destruction.”
It is not unfair to say that the world trade system, and the world financial systems, are the primary drivers, now, of much of the destruction of biodiversity.…Since Bretton Woods at the end of World War II, we have created (first through GATT, now the WTO) a finely tuned, international economic system, that has clear, enforceable rules and regulations devoted to what? Devoted to maximizing the consumption of resources with complete disregard for the externalities and the unsustainable resource costs. We have created a global trading system in which any discussion of environmental externalities is absolutely unavailable.…It is a sort of nineteenth-century concept of a closed economic system, administered by a world group of trade mandarins who have made it simply a sacrosanct system. That must change.
Bruce Babbitt, February 12, 2009
Numerous speakers offered examples of ways in which the failure of markets to appropriately price environmental resources has resulted in ecological damage. Jerome Ringo also observed that “people of color and poor people are disproportionately impacted by environmental damage.” He joined Larry Schweiger in advocating for the development of new technologies that are more efficient and that will not only help to mitigate climate change and increase national energy security but also help to stimulate the economy and, Mr. Ringo said, “create jobs that are beneficial to all societal levels.”
Biodiversity in our global community of nations is increasingly a question of equity.
Achim Steiner, February 11, 2009
Where markets have failed to reflect the environmental consequences of resource use, those consequences have most often been ignored. Speakers offered several potential mechanisms for correcting market failures and ensuring that the true value of ecosystem services is taken into account. Among those mentioned by various speakers were (a) regulation of activities that lead to the pollution or the degradation of ecosystems, (b) assignment of property rights to resource users, (c) development of systems of governance for common ecological services, and (d) use of market-based instruments, such as environmental taxes, subsidies, charges, user fees, and payments for ecosystem services. A key step forward in providing policy makers with more useful information, several speakers noted, might be to reform the system of national accounts to reflect changes in the stocks of ecological assets by amending overly simplistic and incomplete measures of GDP to incorporate elements of natural and social capital.
Steve Polasky stated the challenge as a three-point problem: (1) improve understanding of the likely consequences of human actions on ecosystems; (2) express the value of these changes in terms that are readily understood by policy makers and the general public; and (3) link an understanding of effects and values to incentives in order to “mainstream” ecosystem services into everyday decisions and longer-term policies. Dr. Polasky’s description of the efforts of the Natural Capital Project to factor ecosystem services into decision making at the landscape scale highlighted promising approaches that are being developed. He emphasized that a more sustainable approach to biodiversity and ecosystem management requires that such principles be broadly accepted and widely applied. Harold Mooney endorsed these recent efforts to extend the system of national accounts to include the option value of nature, and long-term effects on ecosystem services.
Ecosystems are capital assets—part of national wealth, but loss of wealth associated with declining ecosystem services is not reflected in national accounts.
Harold Mooney, February 11, 2009
The urgency of making reforms was stated most clearly by Bruce Babbitt. “The problem and the opportunity,” he said, “is to begin to appreciate that we have created a global economic system that does not take account of environmental or biodiversity considerations. The moment may be at hand to fundamentally transform this economic machine, which is so destructive to biodiversity.”
The eight themes that emerged from the symposium have been highlighted many times before, in many different fora, for scientists, for policy makers, and for the general public. The emphasis at the symposium, however, was not just on each theme individually but on ideas for action in all eight areas if there is to be continuing progress toward conserving and managing species and ecosystems that sustain human society and support its further development. The challenges described at the symposium are complex and daunting, but several speakers emphasized the need for multiple and coordinated actions across a broad front. In the more than 150 years since Darwin contemplated his “tangled bank,” the complexity of ecosystems at all scales, and the extent to which they are affected by human activities, has become ever more clear.
Many symposium speakers expressed concern that human capacity for modification of the global environment has reached the magnitude of a geological force; the impacts have never been greater and continue to increase rapidly. Several speakers went on to say that the present trajectory is unsustainable and carries considerable systemic risks. And while the inherent complexity of coupled natural and human systems makes prediction difficult, the effects of continuing perturbations are likely to be profound.
Many speakers called for additional research to better understand the components of biological, physical, and sociocultural systems, as well as the interconnections within and among them, which will determine the nature and extent of future risks. While not disagreeing with the importance of research, other speakers reminded participants that much is already clear, and there is a strong basis for immediate action, including the development and implementation of national and international policies that are more firmly grounded in a systems approach. Technology has a role to play in mitigating these risks and increasing human capacity to adapt to changing environmental conditions, but it is no substitute for the fundamental realignment of our relationship to the natural world implicit in the themes discussed at the symposium and highlighted in this report.