Trinity scientists call for immediate action to stem biodiversity losses

A recent report that received widespread international media attention suggests that one million species are at risk of extinction and that current unprecedented declines in biodiversity represent an urgent threat to human society. 

The report, conducted by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) underlined the gravity of the situation facing humanity. However, with Biodiversity Week currently in the spotlight, scientists are keen to underline that it is not too late to stem the catastrophic losses and right the ship. 

In addition to the IPBES report, Ireland recently released a report undertaken by the National Parks and Wildlife Service to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. Within this, progress is reported for many of the national and global targets, but this progress has come at an insufficient rate.

A transformational change is thus required to achieve the Vision in the National Biodiversity Action Plan 2017-2021.

Echoing those sentiments and calling for immediate action are Professor of Zoology at Trinity, Yvonne Buckley, and Professor in Botany at Trinity, Jane Stout.   

Yvonne is the Chair of the National Biodiversity Forum, which provides advice to Minister Madigan on biodiversity. She spoke at the National Biodiversity Conference on the importance of implementing the National Biodiversity Action Plan, with the Biodiversity Forum having worked with government to contribute many of the 119 actions in the plan.  

Professor Buckley said: “The recent IPBES report makes it clear that there is a strong scientific consensus on both the importance of nature for our health, wellbeing and survival and the imperative to act now in order to stabilise our natural life support systems and restore their critical functions. Here in Ireland, despite being on our third multi-annual Biodiversity Action Plan, we have seen few signs of improvement of our natural habitats and species. We need deeper action, greater commitment from government, industry and individuals and we need to rapidly transition away from environmentally damaging practices.” 

“The effects of climate change on nature and on our life support systems could be devastating. We are already seeing changes in the timing of important biological events like flowering and insect emergence, and are seeing changes in where species can persist and differences in the population dynamics of animals and plants. Given that this is due in large part to the current 1?C rise in global temperatures, this makes the predictions for +2?C warming and further extremely worrying.  

At the same time we are seeing land and ocean use as the main threat to biodiversity, so nature is being squeezed on all sides. The ability of natural ecosystems to adapt and respond to multiple pressures is limited. Ecosystems, and all of their contributions to people’s lives, will collapse or change irreversibly if placed under multiple intense and sustained pressures like we’re seeing now. 

“The earth’s ecosystems have experienced the greatest changes in human existence over the course of my life-time, but I believe that action over the next decade can put in place the measures necessary to conserve biodiversity and all of the opportunities it affords to the next generation. 

Professor Buckley’s research includes the quantification of animal and plant life history strategies across hundreds of species worldwide in order to inform conservation practice. She also works on the environmental drivers of plant population increase and decline, which is of particular relevance for predicting plant responses to climate change. She leads the global network of plant ecologists “Plantpopnet, which works across 70 sites worldwide to determine the drivers of plant population responses to the environment and climate. She is a member of the IUCN climate change specialist group. 

Professor Stout co-led the development of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan and is deputy chair of the steering group that overseas its implementation. Her research on plant-pollinator interactions, and factors that drive changes in pollinator communities and the delivery of pollination service, is part of the body of evidence underpinning the guidelines and recommendations made by the Plan, which has been hailed as one of Ireland’s most successful conservation initiatives.  

Jane is also the Chair of the Board of the Irish Forum on Natural Capital, which co-hosted the inaugural National Biodiversity Conference in Dublin Castle earlier this year 

Professor Stout said: “With the recent public attention on the state of biodiversity both here in Ireland and across the globe, and growing understanding of the importance of biodiversity in underpinning our economies, health and well-being, this year’s Biodiversity Week is a great opportunity to get more people informed and enthused about biodiversity. Although statistics about species extinction and habitat destruction can seem overwhelmingly negative, there are things that everyone can do to help – local action can add up to create large-scale change.  

We have been delighted and amazed by the reaction to the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan, which has been embraced by local councils, businesses, gardeners, local communities and schools across the country. Simple things like not mowing the lawn so often, ditching the chemical bug sprays, growing your own fruit, veg and herbs, or choosing locally grown, organic produce, can all help.  

But ultimately, society needs to consume and waste less, and account for nature when we make decisions that affect it. Nearly all decisions are made based on numbers – cost, number of votes, employment statistics – but despite underpinning so much of our well-being, numbers for nature are rarely included. And if nature is not included, it is ignored.  

Through my research, I want to make nature visible by quantifying the role of nature in our societies and businesses, determining what causes its decline, and characterising how positive actions can make a difference.” 

Jane is involved in national and international research projects to understand the impacts of agricultural intensification on bees and other pollinating insects, and their interactions with the plants they pollinate. She recently led a project to quantify the market and non-market value of pollinators and currently leads a project to develop natural capital accounting in Ireland. ? 

Together Professor Buckley and Professor Stout lead the Nature+ research initiative in Trinity, which brings together a multi-disciplinary team of researchers exploring new ways to gain and sustainably manage biodiversity and the benefits of nature. They investigate how natural, social, technological, built and financial capital combine to provide these benefits. By understanding the feedbacks between natural capital and climate systems, we can design future-proof, truly sustainable solutions.

For more on national biodiversity week see https://biodiversityweek.ie/ and for more on the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan see www.pollinators.ie.

For more on Professor Buckley’s research see here and for more on Professor Stout’s research see here.

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Media Contact:

Thomas Deane, Press Officer for the Faculty of Engineering, Mathematics and Science | deaneth@tcd.ie | +353 1 896 4685