Human actions compromise the information content of the biosphere, contained in its biological diversity, or biodiversity. The fundamental logic of biodiversity conservation is that the variety of living things matters for a range of utilitarian (human-centered) and intrinsic reasons. Variation is the raw material of evolution and the source of novel and useful biological products, forming the basis for activities such as plant and animal breeding and the development of pharmaceutical products. Biodiversity is also important for ecosystem functioning (MA 2005). An ecosystem composed of very similar organisms will react differently to imposed stresses than one composed of dissimilar organisms, although general predictive rules remain elusive. Biodiversity has aesthetic appeal in all cultures and underlies many recreation and tourism activities. Many people share a moral imperative to conserve a representative sample of the full range of biological variation. In short, it is widely agreed that more diversity is better than less, especially in the context of natural or self-regenerating ecosystems, but the critical limits are unknown.
Many biodiversity indicators have been proposed (Delbaere 2002a; Reid et al. 1993; CBD 2003c, 2003e), but as yet none have been universally accepted and applied (Royal Society 2003). The adoption by the World Summit on Sustainable Development and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) of a target to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by the year 2010 (CBD 2003a, 2003d) has accentuated the need to achieve convergence on this issue. As a result, the international discussion on indicators has been accelerated and preliminary agreement on five trial indicators reached within the CBD (2003b).
The difficulties in establishing operational indicators of biodiversity stem from three main sources: the inadequacy of much of the data, the loss of information that occurs when a complex and multidimensional concept is reduced to a one-dimensional indicator, and our rudimentary understanding of the causal links between biodiversity and ecosystem function. This chapter presents the basic concepts important to monitoring biodiversity, provides a broad overview of current developments in biodiversity indicators, and outlines future possibilities in this field. We focus on indicators at the national to global levels in order to support policy decisions related to sustainable development.
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