Preservation of shared knowledge

British scientist emphasizes the importance of joint research for the knowledge of biodiversity

By Heitor Shimizu, in London

Agência FAPESP
– Deforestation, unbridled exploitation of natural resources, global warming, destruction of species and ecosystems. The status of biodiversity remains a matter of concern all over the world, but good news is beginning to appear, like the adoption of effective conservation policies brought about by the work of researchers.

On the other hand, the lack of knowledge about biodiversity itself, particularly with regard to the planet’s species – how many and what they are, for example – is still is enormous. And one fundamental resource that allows people to learn about and better preserve biodiversity is scientific research, especially that conducted by international groups that involve the sharing of knowledge.

This scenario was described by Georgina Mace, professor of Biodiversity and Ecosystems at University College London, in her talk entitled, “Biodiversity loss and ecosystem change: trends and consequences,” on the second day of FAPESP Week London. Mace also chairs the board of the International Programme of Biodiversity Science (Diversitas), one of four United Nations (UN) programs that focus on the environment.

Organized by FAPESP, with support from the British Council and the Royal Society, the symposium will present, through September 27, the results of studies conducted at several institutions of higher education and research in the state of São Paulo. Live transmission is available at:

In the auditorium of the Royal Society in downtown London, before an audience made up of researchers from the most varied of fields, Mace began by defining biodiversity. “The variation of life at all levels: genes, populations, species and ecosystems; soil, water and air; and the interactions among living creatures,” she said.

She then emphasized what little is known about the subject. “Our knowledge about the world’s species is far from complete. We do not even know how many species there are and we have described fewer than a tenth of them,” she said.

“Analyses of taxonomic models completed for all of the kingdoms has allowed us to estimate the number of species on the planet at 8.7 million, 2.2 million of which are marine species. But the number could be much larger. An estimated 86% of the earth’s species and 91% of marine species has still not been described,” Mace said.

The researcher highlighted negative points in relation to the planet’s biodiversity. “The status of the biodiversity rates in indicators of trends in populations of species, their size, habitat conditions and community make-up has decreased significantly. At the same time, the pressure on biodiversity has increased based on factors such as ecological footprint, nitrogen deposition, number of invasive species, overexploitation of ecosystems and climate impacts,” she said.

“The good news is that we’ve seen improvements in some of the indicators, such as those regarding the expansion of coverage of protected areas of biodiversity, policies regarding the issue of invasive species, sustainable forest management and conservation project financing,” said Mace.

The University College London professor emphasized the biodiversity present in Brazil. “Nearly 70% of the world’s recorded plant and animal species are found in Brazil. It is estimated that Brazil has between 15% and 20% of the biological diversity and largest number of endemic species on a global scale,” she said.

She then spoke about biodiversity in England. “The species in England are probably the most studied in the world, with a history of records by amateur naturalists that date back three centuries. England has over half of the bryophyte species in the European flora,” she said.

For Mace, it is the combined knowledge and work of researchers that will lead the way to even more good news for biodiversity.

To that end, she highlighted the importance of international collaborative efforts between the United Kingdom and Brazil in the study of biodiversity, such as the agreement between FAPESP and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), which has resulted in the joint funding of several research projects carried out together by scientists in both countries.

Mace also spoke about the activities of Diversitas, which involve four main challenges. The first is to identify changes that are detrimental to the ecosystem services and provide the knowledge to help avoid, limit or mitigate such changes.

“The second challenge is to increase the capacity of the socio-ecological systems that sustain the biodiversity and ecosystem services under global change. The third is to develop the knowledge base for use and conservation of the biodiversity needed to sustain the ecosystemic services and human well-being,” she said.

The fourth challenge to Diversitas, according to Mace, is setting up a global network of biodiversity science.


One of the members of Diversitas is professor Carlos Joly, of the University of Campinas, coordinator of the BIOTA-FAPESP program. Joly, who is one of the directors of the Multidisciplinary Expert Panel (MEP) of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), presided over the panel on biodiversity during FAPESP Week London and was one of the speakers.

In the symposium, Joly spoke about BIOTA-FAPESP, a “successful 12-year experiment in combining research about biodiversity, capacity building, bioprospecting and public policy impact in the state São Paulo.”

Joly presented the program, established by FAPESP in 1999 to learn about, map and analyze the biodiversity of the state of São Paulo, including its fauna, flora and microorganisms, as well as to assess the possibilities for the sustainable exploitation of plants or animals having economic potential, and subsidize the formulation of conservation policies for the forests that remain.

“One of the BIOTA-FAPESP proposals involves making all information collected by its researchers freely available on the Internet. There is a substantial amount of data, since the program, up to now, has resulted in the description of nearly 12,000 species, in over 100,000 records,” he said.

“The BIOTA-FAPESP researchers have also published extensively, with nearly 1,050 articles published in 260 scientific journals, of which180 are indexed by the ISI, such as the journals Nature and Science,” said Joly.

According to Joly, the BIOTA-FAPESP program has also been very important in terms of training of human resources, involving 96 post-doctorate fellows (of which 73 have FAPESP grants), 205 doctoral candidates (90 of FAPESP) 193 master’s candidates (131) and 189 undergraduate scholarships (142 grant recipients from FAPESP).

“FAPESP’s investment in the BIOTA program has increased since 2010, when it was renewed, reaching nearly US$6 million in 2011 and US$6.4 million in 2012,” said Joly.

Joly also emphasized the importance of the BIOTA-FAPESP program in helping formulate public policy. “As of right now, there are 23 legal instruments based on the results of research conducted within the scope of the program,” he said.