Adil Najam, Dean of the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University, chaired the meeting which convened interdisciplinary experts for an intensive collaborative research process to critically evaluate what has come before – and to think creatively about the future of the science and policy that underpin biodiversity conservation. Biodiversity Revisited will create a new research agenda for society to effectively sustain the biosphere.
Viewed from space at night, North Korea looks like the recently released first image of a black hole: an abyss, ringed by the brilliant glow of South Korea, China and Russia, from which nothing can escape. But the Hermit Kingdom does emit a bit of light, which orbiting satellites detect. And nocturnal luminosity is one of the few reliable sources of information about the country. It implies that North Korea’s economy is poorer, more volatile and more vulnerable to weather than formerly thought.
Night lights are a strong proxy for economic activity. A new paper by the imf finds that they explain 44% of the variation in countries’ gdp per person—as close a tie as that between a person’s height and hand size. In places where records are poor or manipulated, night lights offer an alternative measure of output. One study found that among countries with similar luminosity, autocracies reported gdp growth 15-30% higher than democracies did.
The project convenes interdisciplinary experts in an intensive collaborative research process to critically evaluate what has come before – and to think creatively about the future of the science and policy that underpin biodiversity conservation. Biodiversity Revisited will create a new research agenda for society to effectively sustain the biosphere.
The goal of Biodiversity Revisited is to critically examine the biodiversity narrative and consider what it would take to move closer to a new, innovative agenda around sustaining the biosphere. The committee will explore what such a framing would look like and what its new science would encompass.
The University of Zurich (UZH) has published an article about remote sensing expert Michael Schaepman’s plans to use a new aerial sensing method to investigate the complex interplay between ecosystems, species and genes. While biodiversity is on the rise in some parts of the world, such as on the balconies and in the gardens of Europe where nonnative species of plants are being grown in pots, biodiversity in rainforests is rapidly declining as the rainforests are being cleared by humans.
Schaepman, professor of remote sensing at the UZH Department of Geography, wants to scientifically approximate the global impact of humans on biodiversity and is leading the Remotely Sensing Ecological Genomics project at UZH to do so. He is employing a biodiversity observatory to monitor plant diversity on the Lägern, a wooded area in the canton of Zurich. The project will measure, from the ground and from the air, how the area responds to global changes.
“We have a massive influence on global biodiversity, and thus on the way it impacts the environment,” says Schaepman.
To overcome the major challenge of counting and locating the different living organisms, Schaepman and his team are investigating the functional diversity of plants, which describes the diversity of interrelationships between ecosystems, species and genes. The scientists deploy highly specialized equipment they have developed in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA) and mounted in aircraft. The equipment includes a spectrometer to measure from the air the light from the sun that hits plants and is reflected. On the basis of how the plants reflect different wavelengths of light, the researchers can determine the physiological characteristics of the leaves and the nitrogen, chlorophyll and water content. This can give an indication, for example, of the activity and health of a tree.
The Remotely Sensing Ecological Genomics project is being funded by NOMIS, the Global Change and Biodiversity University Research Priority Program (URPP Global Change and Biodiversity) and the UZH Foundation.
Scientists at Ecole Polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland will spend at least the next four years studying some of the world’s biggest glacier-fed streams. By collecting microorganisms from the streams and extracting their DNA, they hope to better understand how these creatures have adapted to their extreme environments. The project, Vanishing Glaciers, is being led by Tom J. Battin, professor of ecohydraulics at EPFL. Slated to start on Aug. 1, 2018, the project will be the inaugural research program for the Alpine and Polar Environment Research Center (Alpole) at the EPFL Valais Wallis campus in Sion.
On an unprecedented expedition, the team of scientists will set out to answer the question, What else besides water do we lose as glaciers vanish? The scientists will travel to the world’s largest mountain glacier systems, collecting microorganisms from hundreds of glacier-fed streams and analyzing their genomes. Through a combination of environmental sciences, life sciences and geology, they hope to learn how these microbiomes have adapted over the millennia to the extreme conditions they are exposed to.
The Vanishing Glaciers project is supported by the NOMIS Foundation.
NOMIS scientist Wolfgang Fengler of the World Data Lab (WDL) is making a case for an absolute reference value when it comes to assessing poverty. In his Süddeutsche Zeitung article, “Was Armut bedeutet” (“The meaning of poverty”), he shows how crucial the distinction between absolute and relative measures of income is when addressing poverty, which is why, on a global level, these different measures are incorporated in different development targets, namely poverty (Entwicklungsziel 1) and inequality (Entwicklungsziel 8). Blending these measures confuses the discussion: For example, in Germany, the at-risk-of-poverty threshold is measured relatively, counting those who have less than 60 percent of the national average income. In 2015, this was 1,033 euros per person per month. But if you take this amount as an absolute measure and compare it to income worldwide, a person with this income would be in the middle class. Which measure one takes in the end depends on one’s understanding of economical processes and on political preferences, but any informed discussion needs to be based on properly understood data.
Fengler is an economist at the World Bank in Vienna and part of the WDL, which, along with its research partners, will deploy new methods in data collection, data curation and dissemination, laying the groundwork to advance social and economic research on poverty in the most underdeveloped regions worldwide. NOMIS is funding their collaborative project, Converting Geospatial Observations into Socioeconomic Data, enabling the development of the first-ever sub-national income model for Kenya, which, when developed, can be subsequently adapted for other countries.