EU network develops long-term framework for biodiversity research

May 30, 2006

Brussels, 29 May 2006

ALTER-Net, an EU-funded network of excellence (NoE), has established an inter-disciplinary research facility to investigate the complex relationship between ecosystems, biodiversity and society.

Biodiversity loss continues at alarming rates both in the EU and globally, with serious potential consequences for sustainable livelihoods and sustainable economic growth. While biodiversity research is a priority in Europe, many of the biodiversity research endeavours seem disparate and fragmented, making the timely delivery of responses to specific biodiversity issues difficult.

'Research in this field is so disconnected, it is hard to get a picture of what's going on,' ALTER-Net's Coordinator, Terry Parr, told CORDIS News. The ALTER-Net project is a partnership of 24 organisations from 17 European countries addressing biodiversity research in terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems. It has received 10 million euro under the 'Sustainable Development, Global Change and Ecosystems' thematic priority of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6).

In 2003, 51 countries in Europe adopted the Kiev Resolution on Biodiversity to halt the loss of biodiversity by 2010. The European Commission's Biodiversity Strategy aims to reach this target through a set of policy actions. However, these responses are seriously hampered by the lack of effective science on both the assessment of biodiversity status, and on change and its implications for sustainable use, explained Mr Parr. 'The focus of our project, therefore, is to integrate research capacity across Europe to assess and forecast changes in biodiversity, structure, functions and dynamics of ecosystems and their services,' he said.

To deliver on the 2010 target, ALTER-Net has created a network of sites for European long-term terrestrial and freshwater biodiversity and ecosystem research (LTER). LTER brings together site-based research and monitoring taking place over 10 or more years. Many sites feature repeated monitoring. 'The idea is to not only conduct research on the status of biodiversity but the also measure the pressures and threats facing it such as climate change, land use change and invasive species,' explained Mr Parr. Part of the LTER's work is to harmonise measurement approaches and develop systems for distinguishing between the impacts of local and global drivers of change on protected areas.

The project has also developed a second, related network of Long-Term Socio-Ecological Research (LTSER) sites, which are used to determine the socio-economic implications of, and public attitudes to, biodiversity loss. 'It is not enough to know only about the status of biodiversity, it is also important to understand the socio-economic implications,' said Mr Parr. To do so, LTSER brings together national networks, involving both ecologists and socio-economic researchers, to identify the socio-economic drivers of biodiversity change, to analyse social, political and economic dynamics, and to identify policy options to mitigate the negative effects of these drivers.

Mr Parr believes that these sites will provide scientific support for policy assessment, and for the development of conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in the EU. To ensure that scientific outcomes are adopted at policy level, the network participates in the European Platform for Biodiversity Research Strategy (EPBRS). EPBRS is a forum of scientists working closely with policy makers at national and European level to identify and promote strategically important biodiversity research that will contribute to policies and management to reduce biodiversity loss.

Another important activity of the network is its role in communicating to the public. 'Researchers in these sites are producing a lot of knowledge on biodiversity which needs to be brought together and communicated to the media, policy makers and general public,' noted Mr Parr. To achieve this, the network set up the International Press Centre for Biodiversity Research (IPCB), a regularly updated online source of news and press releases about international biodiversity research, serving journalists and other users. Since its launch in 2005, visits to the portal are increasing as more data is added, explained Mr Parr.

ALTER-Net also develops partnerships with science communicators and science-based visitor centres. One such partnership is with At-Bristol, a leading UK science visitor centre, to transform the scientific knowledge developed by the researchers into hands-on activities for children. 'Partnerships with these centres allow for a two-way process of communication,' said Mr Parr. 'Not only do they allow us to demonstrate the value of research on biodiversity, they also afford us with opportunity to get the views of the public which can then be fed back into the network's reach activities.'

But perhaps the most crucial audience of all is the next generation of scientists. Recognising this, the network will host a summer school in August to equip young researchers with the knowledge and skills to conduct integrated European biodiversity research. 'The school will contribute to durable integration and spread of excellence in a variety of ways, for instance by promoting interdisciplinary approaches and true European perspectives in biodiversity research,' explained Mr Parr. 'The proof success of this initiative and the network's other activities will be if they continue beyond the duration of the project.'

Further information

CORDIS RTD-NEWS/© European Communities, 2006
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