HomeNewsTop biologists provide road map to protect biodiversity

Top biologists provide road map to protect biodiversity

Elephants. Pandas. Bees. These species are familiar to us because researchers have studied and collected detailed data about their habitats, their diets and their responses to environmental and human stimuli. But there are millions more species in the world that have not received the same attention, threatening their continued existence given that policymakers and resource managers don’t know enough about what is needed to protect them in the face of climate change.

That’s why a group of 22 top international biologists have called for a globally coordinated effort to collect high quality data about how a plant or animal’s unique biology governs their responses to climate. The paper was published last week in the journal Science.

The biologists, including IonE director Jessica Hellmann, suggest setting up a global clearing house to organize and monitor six classes of biological mechanisms — physiology, demography, evolutionary potential, species interaction, dispersal and responses to environmental variation — and recommends methods of data collection along with a list of biological mechanisms to record.

Models that include biological mechanisms have been used to project (clockwise from top) the evolution of disease-harboring mosquitoes, future environments and land use, physiological responses of invasive species such as cane toads, demographic responses of penguins to future climates, climate-dependent dispersal behavior in butterflies, and mismatched interactions between butterflies and their host plants. Image courtesy of the study group.

Models that include biological mechanisms have been used to project (clockwise from top) the evolution of disease-harboring mosquitoes, future environments and land use, physiological responses of invasive species such as cane toads, demographic responses of penguins to future climates, climate-dependent dispersal behavior in butterflies, and mismatched interactions between butterflies and their host plants. Image courtesy of study authors.

“Right now, we’re treating a mouse the same way as an elephant or a fish or a tree. Yet we know that those are all very different organisms and they are going to respond to their environment in different ways,” Mark Urban, an ecologist at the University of Connecticut and the paper’s lead author, said in a recent press release. “We need to pull on our boots, grab our binoculars and go back into the field to gather more detailed information if we are going to make realistic predictions.”

“Ecologists have made great strides in developing tools and techniques for predicting where species might live — and might not live — in the future because of climate change,” says Hellmann, a professor in the College of Biological Sciences. “To make on-the-ground decisions about managing biodiversity, however, we need methods of prediction that are better still. This paper provides a road map for building those predictions to enable planning and decision-making.”

Photo by popofatticus (Flickr/Creative Commons)

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