Lessons from Diversitas

The second Diversitas Open Science Conference was recently held in Capetown South Africa.  Eminent South African ecologist from Harry Biggs, writes What I learnt from the Diversitas Conference:

• Governance issues (esp. science-policy and science-management links) have become far more respectable in such fora, now filling much programme time. For instance, Anantha Duraiappah from Kenya gave a keynote entitled “Managing ecosystem services, institutions, property rights and scales”.

• Gretchen Daily (of ecosystem services and other fame) spoke of mainstreaming conservation “beyond parks, beyond charity, and beyond biodiversity”; while Pavan Sukhdev (a dynamic banker who has thrown his weight fully behind the Diversitas cause) spoke of getting beyond the point where biodiversity is now, merely a “luxury for the rich and a necessity for the poor”. He referred to the increasing use of the concept “ecological infrastructure” as conceptually similar to, say, constructed infrastructure in the traditional sense, and the imperative to invest in maintaining or rehabilitating this.

Daily and others are working on the following useful representation of the different processes we have to make work together if we are to succeed. The right-hand part was referred to by others as “the (traditional) science part” and the left-hand part as the part to which we have mostly given too little attention, in attempting to achieve our overall goals:

Much of the meeting was understandably about the difficult field of biodiversity targets. Daily suggested three types of targets:
BLUE – absolute ecosystem tipping points e.g. rates of climate change too fast
GREEN – societal choices about the desired state e.g. no more bird extinctions
RED – situations we must avoid e.g. imminent coral reef collapse (in my view some overlap with BLUE)

• Sukhdev and many others spoke about TEEB (The economics of ecosystem services and biodiversity), which, although young and developing, promises to make major impacts in our field. See www.teebweb.org.

Sukhdev pointed to sensible ways to deal complexity, feeling scientists often impeded progress because of what he called the “Popperian trap” of demanding ridiculous levels of proof sometimes even when it was absurd to do so, and when Rome was clearly burning. The ideas in the Precautionary Principle will have to be used, but in a more complexity-friendly way.

In my opinion we will as a community have to reconcile these needs, and not only use Mode 1 Science. Importantly, he reflected the invariable TEEB finding that returns on investment for just about all ecosystem services make for very profitable business, suggesting that one day soon these may really take off. My conclusion – perhaps we are poised for major changes in thinking. In additional, many speakers referred to “bundles” of related services as more realistic than looking at one service e.g. carbon sequestration, in isolation – in the same way that multi-species models or interventions often radically change outcomes when compared to single-species ones.

via Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog

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