Political commitment and policy instruments to halt biodiversity loss require robust data and a diverse indicator set to monitor and report on biodiversity trends. Gaps in data availability and narrow-based indicator sets are significant information barriers to fulfilling these needs.
The Essential Biodiversity Variables (EBVs) which were previously developed by ecology experts in GEO BON, is a list of the most essential elements that need to be monitored worldwide, if we want to know how biodiversity is really changing. Example of essential variables are the population abundances of species (used in the WWF's Living Planet Index ) or the extent of habitat fragmentation.
In a newly published study, researchers used the EBVs as a framework to analyse the gaps between the biodiversity objectives stated in international policy instruments, the indicators used to develop the related policy reports and the data actually available to quantify indicators and proxies.
Results of the study show:
1) that not all aspects of biodiversity are actually being part of policy relevant reporting which means that policy makers are unlikely to receive information on them. For example information on changes in the EBV class "Genetic Composition," is often not required for reporting, nor are there any defined indicators and consequently little data is directly available.
2) which of these biodiversity variables actually end up in CBD reports as quantifiable indicators. For example, information on Ecosystem function is often asked for, but not represented by many useful indicators.
3) that for some EBVs data seems to be already available in order to improve current reporting efforts, a good example are indicators on Ecosystem structure.
Additionally, the study identified potentially available data that could be used to improve existing indicators by adding more taxa or spatial or temporal coverage.
EBVs certainly won't cover all the information needed for policy reporting. This is because the policy objectives also include things related to public awareness building and the implementation of protection measures - aspects which are not within the scope of EBVs.
However, using Essential Biodiversity Variables (EBVs) as a tool, theory-driven comparisons could be made between the biodiversity information gaps in reporting and indicator sets. Analytical properties, such as an identification of which data and indicator(s) are relevant per EBV, will need to be addressed before EBVs can actually become operational and facilitate the integration of data flows for monitoring and reporting. In the meantime, a first analysis shows that existing indicators and available data offer considerable potential for bridging the identified information gaps.