Biodiversity is the abundance and variety of species, genes and ecosystems. Our food, drinking water and the air we breathe all depend on this biodiversity. Yet humans are also one of the greatest threats to biodiversity. Over seven billion people live on our planet today and by 2050 that figure is predicted to reach nine billion. Biodiversity research is very complex, and the exchange of knowledge and requirements between policymakers and scientists is not always simple.
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"Biodiversity research is not only about conservation, but much more about the sustainable use of ecosystems and the relation between humans and nature. Integrating all this knowledge and fast-tracking it to decision makers is a challenging task," says Dr. Carsten Neßhöver who currently faces precisely this challenge in his role as coordinator of the 18-partner, EU-funded project BiodiversityKnowledge or KNEU.
The KNEU project team mapped Europe's main biodiversity research institutions and the needs of decisions makers, and assembled them into a prototype network concept. This was tested in three separate areas of biodiversity knowledge.
"Knowledge about biodiversity is actually very scattered among different institutions and even across sectors in Europe," explains Neßhöver, who works at the Helmholtz-Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) in Germany. "That made the first step of identifying and mapping key players very labour intensive," he adds.
Getting researchers interested in the network was the next challenge. "Ultimately scientists focus on increasing their knowledge and getting their institute noticed. They are not particularly aware of how their work can impact society," says Neßhöver. As a result, researchers have been communicating well with each other, but insufficiently with policymakers. "We have tried to raise scientists' awareness of the impact their work can have, offer regionally tailored incentives to get them involved, and emphasise that since the funding they receive is paid for by society, they should also return something back to society," he explains.
According to Neßhöver, the value of BiodiversityKnowledge became clear when the team conducted a series of interviews revealing just how little people understood the potential of research-policy dialogues. "At the moment few people really understand the flow of knowledge between scientific institutions, civil society institutions and government institutions. Everyone has a more or less faint idea of how this works, but no one has precise knowledge about it," says Neßhöver.
Neßhöver is convinced that improving connections between scientists across Europe could solve numerous policy problems. For instance, when Sweden was considering using contraceptives to control its rising wild boar populations, an unexpected discovery of an Italian study on contraceptives proved this was an ineffective method, and ultimately saved the Swedish government around €100 000.
The next step of the project is to discuss the outcomes of the prototype evaluation and consultation of the project white paper at the second conference in Berlin, September 24-26 2013. "Based on these discussions we will finalise our proposed prototype for the network, hopefully with a broad endorsement from the research community. The last phase will be a six-month promotion of the final product towards science and policy," concludes Neßhöver.