A decade of science on global drivers of biodiversity loss

The journey of this paper began with a group of postdocs from the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation based in Brisbane, Australia, meeting for coffee.

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May 21, 2018
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Written by Tessa Mazor and Christopher Doropoulos.

Our paper in Nature Ecology & Evolution can be found here:

Moving from vibrant early career research hubs located at universities throughout the world, we were keen to create an informal group of CSIRO postdocs to discuss science, network and share ideas.

Our group comprised a diverse range of fields from expertise in coral reefs to agricultural pests and statistics – our research appeared poles apart. Even so, it wasn’t long before initial introductions and idle chitchat turned into lengthy discussions comparing science across fields of research. Commonalities emerged from field work to modelling, and discussions began to focus on differences and similarities between marine versus terrestrial research: are the prominent topics of research similar across all systems? Was habitat loss research popular across the board or just in terrestrial systems?

Habitat change is a major driver of biodiversity loss in terrestrial systems

Our discussions were fuelled by conserving and managing the world’s natural environment – and incorporated CSIRO’s 2020 strategy “to understand and respond to accelerating global change”. Topics such as overexploitation and invasive species seemed relevant to many areas of research. Our coffee gatherings quickly transformed into formal meetings, and our collaboration towards a research paper began.

Biodiversity loss affects all systems. Many scientists around the globe are focused on forecasting and predicting how the future will be and how far off or unattainable policy targets are. But in our searches we stumbled across a research gap: was there anyone measuring current research efforts, and are they aligned with policy goals to try and effectively reduce biodiversity loss?

Climate change induced coral bleaching is affecting coral reefs worldwide

We brainstormed the plethora of causes for biodiversity loss but it was quickly apparent we needed some structure to address the topic. Ten years ago, the UN funded the Millennium Ecosystem Report, an assessment that brought a team of experts together to identify the major drivers of biodiversity loss, as well as their historical and predicted impacts. It is a key initiative for global biodiversity conservation, and set the scene for our systematic review.

We aimed to categorise all the work we could find in the top journals in conservation and ecology, which meant an astounding total of 42,131 papers! It wasn’t feasible to read every one, so we needed to come up with an automated approach.

The statistician in our group introduced us to text mining and classification techniques, a plausible solution to efficiently categorise large quantities of papers by scanning abstracts, keywords and titles. Systematically, we derived key words and validated our findings. We classed our papers into systems and drivers of biodiversity loss, exploring patterns and relationships.

But what did this mean? Was research responding to the need to address biodiversity loss? Are we all concerned about the impact of melting icebergs for polar bears or are we missing some critical drivers that may be overlooked? We delved into policy documents for answers

Two key policy agenda’s include the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the Convention on Biological Diversity Aichi Targets. Comparing our findings with these items meant we could easily identify areas of agreement and misalignment.

Our paper published in Nature Ecology and Evolution is a first step forward to help align research and policy to prevent and reduce biodiversity loss.

The work also demonstrates the value of working across disciplines with a group of motivated colleagues. It was fun, challenging, sometimes tedious, but each team member contributed with their unique set of skills and experience. It pushed all of us to think beyond our immediate research projects in consideration of something global in nature and directly linked to global conservation targets. An effort well worth its outcome

Go to the profile of Christopher Doropoulos

Christopher Doropoulos

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, CSIRO

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