Protecting and managing biodiversity – the foundation of life as we know it
"Biodiversity is the living tissue of our planet," says Xavier Le Roux, BiodivERsA's project coordinator. "It delivers services – what we call "ecosystem services" – which are very important for human society." Provided by the countless living organisms which make up life on earth, these services include functions such as plant and crop pollination, the maintenance of soil fertility, the regulation of greenhouse gases, and the production of food.
But biodiversity degradation and loss are accelerating at an unprecedented rate. "If this continues," says M. Le Roux of the Fondation pour la Recherche sur la Biodiversité in Paris, "we could reach "tipping points" where these vital services are no longer delivered sufficiently, with a huge impact on human life. This requires us to promote research on biodiversity and ecosystem services to identify the opportunities and risks associated with biodiversity degradation at all relevant scales."
This threat to our biodiversity was the challenge which lay at the heart of BiodivERsA, part of the European Research Area Network (ERA-NET) scheme within the 7th Framework Programme of research of the European Commission. Now in its second four-year phase (2010-2014), BiodivERsA brings together a network of 21 funding organisations from 15 European countries to help promote coordinated and effective pan-European research into the conservation and sustainable management of biodiversity. The intention is that the results of this research will be used by policymakers and other stakeholders at European and international levels.
The first objective of the BiodivERsA network was to produce a comprehensive 'map' of the current state of biodiversity research in Europe. This included an analysis of national and international research strategies, the creation of a database of more than 6,600 projects funded at national or European levels, and an analysis of how these projects were funded and how various stakeholders were involved. "All of this was vital," says Xavier Le Roux, "because Europe presents a very fragmented landscape in terms of biodiversity research. For the first time, BiodivERsA was able to map this into a single, comprehensive view."
This mapping, in turn, allowed for the creation of a common research agenda, which is updated annually, focusing on key topics of common interest on a pan-European scale and eliminating the duplications and inefficiencies resulting from the previously fragmented approach.
The third step of the BiodivERsA project was to use this agreed agenda as the basis for a series of annual "calls", focusing on a specific theme and inviting relevant multinational biodiversity research projects around Europe to apply for funding. The first call in the current 4-year phase focused on ways of evaluating ecosystem services associated with biodiversity – providing them with a specific value, monetary or otherwise, so they could be more easily factored in to future policymaking. The second call focused on identifying biodiversity "tipping points" and improving resilience, while the theme of the third call, in 2012, was the role of invasive species and biological invasions. A final call, on a theme yet to be decided, may be launched in 2013.
"By the end of the 4 year project," says M. Le Roux, "it is estimated that BiodivERsA will have allocated funds of approximately €28 to 34 million to qualifying projects." On the basis of an initial EC funding of €2 million, this represents a remarkable "leverage" effect of 14 to 17 times the EC's original investment. "If non-monetary contributions involved in projects are included, this leverage rises to an even more impressive 20 to 25 times", adds M. Le Roux.
The work of BiodivERsA does not stop with the funding of the projects, however. The final – most important – step of all is the dissemination of research results. "The BiodivERsA endeavour will only be truly effective if the knowledge generated is leveraged and made quickly accessible to policymakers," says M. Le Roux. As well as feeding directly into European policymaking, these results can also be disseminated at the international level through appropriate bodies to IPBES, the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services – the equivalent, in the biodiversity sphere, of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Biodiversity and the vital benefits it brings are a topic of enormous importance affecting a broad range of international policy areas. "It is not only an environmental issue. It is also an economic, political, food-security and energy-security one. It is important to recognise this," says M. Le Roux.
By playing its full part in promoting and integrating biodiversity research in Europe, BiodivERsA is helping put that recognition into practical action as swiftly and effectively as possible.
Project acronym: BIODIVERSA
Participants: France (Coordinator), Bulgaria, Sweden, Germany, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Austria, Hungary, Lithuania, Portugal, Estonia, Norway, Turkey, Belgium, Spain