Human-induced environmental changes constitute the greatest current threat to biodiversity, comparable with other major extinction events observed in the Earth’s history. Biodiversity is the backbone of ecosystems and maintaining diversity through conservation is important for stable ecosystems and human well-being in the years to come.
PLOS ONE has launched a Call for Papers considering all research on biological diversity conservation. Here, one of our Guest Editors for the call, Dr. Thomas Couvreur, shares his thoughts on the importance of biodiversity loss and how to prevent it .
What is your area of research and how does it contribute to the conservation of Earth’s biodiversity?
My main research focuses on tropical rain forest evolution and plant biodiversity. Tropical rain forests are the most diverse terrestrial ecosystems on Earth and play numerous critical roles such as global and local climate regulators and for human wellbeing. My research provides fundamental data towards the improved conservation of tropical rain forests. I try to elucidate how and when this huge diversity originated, identify regions where speciation occurred and how. I also study the taxonomy of two important rain forest plant families, palms and the soursop family Annonaceae. I describe new species and provide floras and taxonomic accounts, which generates important knowledge about these species such as identification keys and distribution information. This data is then used for conservation purposes, for example, conservation assessments which can impact certain development decisions.
What do you think are the most important consequences of global biodiversity loss?
Biodiversity loss will impact every aspect of our lives. I don’t think many people realize how important biodiversity is or will be. Working in rain forests provides an enormous perspective on how biodiversity is fundamental for so many aspects of people’s lives, not just locally but also at global levels. The problem is that the consequences will only be felt when it is already too late. When you lose your job, for example, that has an immediate consequence on your life and you try to fix it as soon as possible. Biodiversity loss will generally be felt only when it is irreversible. When a species goes extinct, or an ecosystem destroyed, it is usually forever, or at least for several centuries.
What research advances do you foresee will have the greatest impact on preventing further loss of biodiversity?
I think big data will be important for biodiversity conservation: producing large integrated datasets between fields. This allows us to undertake a much better and detailed synthesis of the current state of biodiversity but also its response to ongoing human actions, which will be important for designing better conservation scenarios and policies. Technological innovations will also be important, to inventory biodiversity and its properties (in field sequencing, near infra-red scanning of vegetation), but also to monitor human actions (e.g. use of drones, remote sensing and Artificial Intelligence). We can use these innovations to better monitor biodiversity and act faster when problems arise. As we have seen with the recent fires in Brazil, challenging facts was a central part of the debate and public opinion. “Yes, there are more fires and deforestation” versus “no, this isn’t different than normal”. Thus, acquiring data will be important and technological innovations will be central.
What advice would you give to early-career researchers working on Biodiversity Conservation science?
I would say be passionate and patient, open to the public, and that every bit of research and data counts. Biodiversity conservation isn’t a single field, it is an agglomerate and syntheses of numerous fields across life science, but also earth and social sciences.
How is PLOS ONE and Open Science important for Biodiversity Conservation research?
Open Science journals such as PLOS ONE are pivotal because they make research open to all and transparent. This disables the naysayers and disbelievers to a certain extent. In such a way, scientific facts are accessible to all and not hidden behind pay to view. Besides, PLOS provides a level of scientific reviewing that leads to excellent research open to all, which I think will be fundamental to influence public policy for proper conservation actions.
Researchers working on biodiversity conservation are encouraged to submit their work to PLOS ONE Biodiversity Conservation Call for Papers. The submission deadline is 12th December 2019. For full details of the scope and the editorial team, see https://collections.plos.org/s/biodiversity
About Thomas Couvreur:
Thomas L.P. Couvreur is a senior researcher at the French National Institute for Sustainable Development is currently based at the “Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Ecuador”, in Quito Ecuador. He received his PhD in tropical biodiversity from the Wageningen University in the Netherlands and worked as post doc at the Osnabruck University in Germany and The New York Botanical Garden in the USA. His main interest lies in understanding the evolution, resilience and diversity of tropical biodiversity, and rain forests in particular. He undertakes research in taxonomy, conservation, molecular phylogenetics and phylogeography of tropical plants. His research mainly focuses on tropical Africa and South America. He is chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission for palms since 2018.
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