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Biodiversity's Big Picture

CBS researchers participate in collaborative international effort to bring together science and policy around biodiversity and ecosystem services.
 
IPBES group photo
A group photo from Bogota, Colombia, where the first meeting of the Americas regional assessment team took place in August.

 
Jeannine Cavender-Bares and Forest Isbell were selected to participate in the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Authors contribute to periodic reports ranging from regional assessments for the Americas, Africa and Asia to thematic papers and broad global assessments.
 
Cavender-Bares is a coordinating lead author of a chapter of the Americas assessment on the status, trends and dynamics of biodiversity and ecosystems in the region. Isbell is a lead author of a chapter of the Americas assessment considering drivers of changes in biodiversity and ecosystem services.
 
“The reports are meant to bridge the gap between what we are producing for scientific knowledge and what’s needed to actually improve decision-making,” says Isbell. Unlike previous ecosystem assessments led by scientists, the IPBES is based on a framework developed by policy experts from around the world.
 
The IPBES plans to produce a series of reports at regular intervals. Isbell and Cavender-Bares will contribute to the inaugural series. The Americas assessment encompasses North, Central and South America, and the Caribbean.
 
“Our task is to present the science — the status and trends and changes through time — of biodiversity and ecosystems in biomes across the Americas,” says Cavender-Bares, who has done research in Mexico and Costa Rica, and collaborated with Latin American scientists for the past decade. Cavender-Bares says that co-teaching a distributed graduate seminar on sustainability with colleagues at the U of M and in Mexico and Brazil, along with recently completing leadership training through a Leopold Fellowship, prepared her to work on the assessment. The Stanford-based program provides leadership training each year to a select group of top environmental scholars from around the world.
 
“One thing we focused on in the Leopold training is harnessing the collective wisdom of the group” says Cavender-Bares. “That is very much needed in a highly interdisciplinary report that bridges science and policy and brings together scientists across wide-ranging geopolitical domains.”
 
“We’re at this sweet spot where we appreciate nature and recognize that there are many values we cannot easily quantify,” says Forest Isbell, “but we also recognize that to the extent that we can quantify some of those values they can improve decision making. Some of our activities that cause the most harm, like agriculture, also provide huge benefits for people. The challenge is to weigh those costs and benefits.”
 
Isbell notes that these regional and global assessments  highlight the inconsistency in available data. “What we find right away is that there’s much better data in some countries than others. So how much can we really say about the Americas or the planet if we have science well funded and systems well studied in a few places?
 
Jeannine Cavender-Bares is an associate professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior. Forest Isbell is an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, and associate director of Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve.
 

“The reports are meant to bridge the gap between what we are producing for scientific knowledge and what’s needed to actually improve decision making."


- Stephanie Xenos / September 2015