Bonjour! It's a nice sunny day here in Montpellier, at the third day of SCB-Europe Section's board meeting. We are glad to have Geri Unger, the Executive Director of global SCB with us, and we have a new member on board Rustam Sagitov from St. Petersburg. He is an expert on European Russia's nature conservation. Having him on board opens new possibilities in expanding our membership and focus of activities towards the East and covering whole Europe. We are working hard on setting up the next ECCB which is here 3-6 august in 2015. We also visited the venue, and Agropolis international where our local organizers are based. Here we also had a quite successfull miniconference, to introduce the SCB-Europe section. At Agropolises webpage you can find the list of the talks. We are going to upload posts informing you about what we are into here! :) Montpellier is a wonderful place, full with energy, cheerful and helpful local organizers, so I suggest to mark this date in your calendar: ****3-6 aug 2015*****
We want you to know what is going on in the BOD, our meetings, our actions, members leaving, the new ones elected,... but text written in this blog cannot be taken an official position or statement of the Society for Conservation Biology. Probably it is not even an official statement of the section... as these need to be approved by the members.
Sunday, 2 February 2014
Tuesday, 7 January 2014
The second plenary meeting of IPBES is over
A few weeks has passed since the IPBES Chair Professor Zakri Abdul Hamid closed the second plenary session of IPBES. Happy faces were seen and positive closing remarks were given, celebrating the “Antalya consensus”. Indeed, great progress was made, and most importantly, the programme of work for 2014 – 2018 was established. This marks in many respects the real start of IPBES, since now experts can begin working on a range of different assessments. First in line is an assessment on pollinators, pollination and food production which is planned to be finished during 2015. As being perhaps the most widely communicated ecosystem service, pollination seems to be a good starting point to show the value and potential of IPBES. A range of other topics will also be addressed, including assessments on land degradation and restoration, invasive alien species, methods on scenarios and modeling as well as methods for valuation of biodiversity. Also both regional and global assessments of biodiversity and ecosystem service will be scoped.
A key function to make all this happen rests with the Multidisciplinary Expert Panel (MEP), which faces a huge workload the coming period. Selecting, managing and coordinating several expert groups and task forces will be critical for the outcome of the different deliverables. Having met several of the MEP members we sensed a bit of stress, but there is also good reason to feel confident about the competence and ambitions of the Panel members. We are also happy to note our direct SCB link with the MEP as having the SCB Europe sections’ president Andras Baldi as one MEP member. We wish him and the other members all the very best luck in the important work!
Time to prove what SCB can do!
The decisions taken also challenge SCB to prove its value for IPBES. When the calls for experts are official, we need to tap into our membership and provide nominations to the different work groups to ensure that the right people are selected to do the job. As an SCB clearly belong to the “qualified national, regional and international scientific organizations, centres of excellence and institutions known for their work and expertise” we are welcome to nominate experts, either directly to IPBES or through national governments. This is a task that will require us to utilize both the networks within our sections and to better link with our national contacts. Our newly revived expert database is another obvious resource. So be prepared to contribute to the nomination process, something we have already promised in our offer for in-kind contribution.
Will IPBES work?
Well, enough of the positive sides, since there are also concerns to voice after the meeting. Although many positive words were said about the role of stakeholders and scientific organizations, the actual discussions and decisions suggest some mistrust among governments to fully engage stakeholders in IPBES. After very long and at some points extremely frustrating negotiations a compromise was established concerning nomination of experts for the functions as report co-chairs, coordinating lead authors, lead authors and review editors. The MEP will be restricted to only select a maximum of 20% of experts directly from nomination from relevant stakeholders, while direct government nominations should comprise the other 80%. This suggests that many governments wants to control who can contribute to the work and somewhat questions the scientific independence and integrity of the work. Fortunately, we have a number of more open governments and we should use these as a second avenue for nomination.
A second disappointment was the lack of decision on the so called Stakeholder Engagement Strategy (SES). The suggested SES was a joint effort from several stakeholder organizations, including SCB, coordinated by IUCN and ICSU. Despite significant efforts this never reached the plenary for a final decision and is now postponed to the next plenary meeting. Although no strong objections were raised against the SES, it showed that the governments did not see this as critical priority for IPBES at this point.
Finally, a major concern is financing of the work. The current budget only supports the internal work of IPBES, its secretariat, upcoming meetings and workshops. No support is available for the actual work provided by experts. The governments seem to assume that the scientific community will stand ready and do all the work for free. Maybe so, but it is easy to see how the lack of funding will strongly filter which experts will be able to contribute. To be successful IPBES needs to become such a prestigious process that the products and work done is recognized in the same way as peer-reviewed publications. We are not there yet, and this questions to what extent IPBES will be able to engage fully with the top experts in the topics to be addressed.
IPBES is a never ending story and the next plenary meeting is scheduled for already late 2014. The upcoming intersessional period will include a new set of documents to read, analyze and comment to show the involvement of SCB and to hopefully contribute to a functioning IPBES. As of now the work will be coordinated by a subcommittee of the SCBs global Policy Committee, but you are all of course welcome to contribute with wise comments and perspectives. Lets remain devoted regardless of the concerns raised above – after all this is what we have as an international process trying to link science with policy making in the area of biodiversity and ecosystem services. SCB needs, in the light of our Mission and Visions, to watch these developments with interest, concern, and hope to see a science-policy dialogue rather than a purely politically dominated system
Bengt Gunnar Jonsson, on behalf the IPBES2 delegation and head of the IPBES subcommittee.
Friday, 20 December 2013
by Gábor Csorba and Attila Németh
Rodents are usually not in the focus of conservation biology and proper evaluation of the conservation status of rodent species is complicated by the confusion that surrounds almost all levels of rodent systematics. However, the vulnerability of this order is demonstrated by the fact that rodent species contributed roughly half of mammalian extinctions in the last 500 years.
|Nannospalax leucodon montanosyrmiensis|
The situation is clearly mirrored in the case of the Eurasian blind mole rats. These small mammals represent a distinct group among rodents which is extremely adapted to subterranean life. They have cylindrically shaped body with no external ear and a vestigial tail, and are completely blind spending their entire life in their tunnel system built underground. Compared to other rodents, the conditions resulting from their lifestyle created a decreased morphological variability and the species are very similar both externally and osteologically. Putting aside the lineage of large mole rats (genus Spalax), taxa belonging to Nannospalax present a long-standing source of dispute and disagreement on their systematics. Within the latter genus one of the recognised species groups (regarded as superspecies) which include a large number of karyologically different taxa is the Lesser blind mole rat, Nannospalax (superspecies leucodon). Molecular genetic investigations of this superspecies are quite limited so far both in terms of geographic and taxonomic coverage and the species status of taxa differentiated on chromosomal grounds have not been widely accepted. Alongside with taxonomic uncertainty the determination of conservation status of different mole rat taxa is further hampered by their exclusively subterranean lifestyle which makes it difficult to evaluate their population size. It is worth to note that Microtus bavaricus (a rare and highly localised European rodent) is regarded as Critically Endangered. and receives much attention whereas - due to the disputed taxonomy - Lesser blind mole rats are treated as a single taxon and are categorised as Least Concern (Temple and Terry 2007) or Data Deficient (www.iucnredlist.org). In the meantime, populations and habitats of many different European chromosomal forms of the Lesser blind mole rats are disappearing at an alarming rate, a phenomenon which has just recently been realized...
A recently published paper presents a case study where a mammal within Europe can drift to the
rink of extinction
almost unnoticed as a result of the lack of information, unclear taxonomic
status and unrecognised tasks in conservation biology. On-going research of
Carpathian Basin blind mole rats identified a small and fragmented population
of these rodents on both sides of the Hungarian-Serbian border. Cytogenetic
investigations proved that this population karyologically identical with the
Vojvodina blind mole rat described earlier as Nannospalax (leucodon) montanosyrmiensis near the Fruska Gora,
Serbia. Based on cytochrome b gene sequences, these blind mole rats form a discrete
phylogenetic clade which, with a difference of about 10%, is well separated
from other blind mole rat taxa inhabiting the Carpathian Basin. According to the results of an other
study, which is so far the most comprehensive molecular biological research on
blind mole rats, montanosyrmiensis
forms a well separated lineage that diverged from the closest taxon examined
about 1.8 million years ago.
|Habitat fragments in the foothills of Fruska gora|
|Habitat fragment near the Hungarian-Serbian border with a mole rat mound|
The Vojvodina blind mole rat has only three extant populations that are widely separated from each other by unsuitable habitats e.g. agricultural fields and geographical barriers. The combined occupied area is estimated to be less than 10 km2, and the total estimated number of individuals is less than 400. These remaining populations are heavily fragmented and many fragments are under imminent threat by the establishment of tree plantations, small-scale and agro-industrial farms and land development. A study of the landscape history based on military maps spanning over the last 200 years has shown a drastic decrease in the extent and quality of potential habitats. Two of the three populations inhabits unprotected areas although the newly established Kőrös-ér Landscape Protection Area (declared on 18 April 2013) in the Hungarian side of the distribution area gives us the glimmer of hope to save this critically endangered endemic rodent of Europe from extinction.
Based on our present knowledge, the Vojvodina blind mole rat is one of the most seriously threatened, rarest mammal in Europe, the remaining population of which can disappear within years unless immediate conservation actions are taken.
Hungarian Natural History Museum
MTA-ELTE-MTM Research Group for Paleontology
Saturday, 14 December 2013
disclaimer: this text only represents the opinions and views of the author.
Last day of IPBES-2: Time for speeding and wrapping up.
Two "Contact Group" sessions for the Rules of Procedures and the Budget, the latter being closed for Stakeholders and hence "free time" for us to discuss some standing issues and prepare a statement listing our concerns.
The early afternoon Plenary session moves suddenly at a different pace. One document after the other are being taken, changed or left as they are, and endorsed (sorry, says Mr Chair, I was just informed by an English speaker that I should use the word adopting). Time for a swift removal of the entire opening paragraph of the Work Programme (by Argentina of course), but then again, who needs this paragraph anyway. Budget: approved. Annex this and that: approved. Rules of Procedures: tension rises again. USA: we cannot read the text on the screen, please give us a few moments of concentration, Members examine the text to their best of capacity, and... endorse. Move on. CRP codes fly back and forth, Members complain that they are not available online and they should have been printed. This results in a much welcomed 1.5 hour break (jump into the sea!), and back to the race.
The end of the Plenary approaches. CRP.5 is being discussed - the communication strategy - and adopted. It's time for All of us Stakeholders move to the front of their chair: It's time for CRP.6: the Stakeholder Engagement Strategy. A few moments of heavy silence till the Chair announces: The Secretariat has decided to delay the decision on the SES to the next Plenary.
Of course there were many other topics on the agenda, and it makes no sense to open a new issue on the last moment, but, well, Damn...
Some of us gather around Estelle (EPBRS) who is about to read our common statement at the Plenary: we have to adjust the message given this unexpected update, and change words such as "welcome" to "disappointed". Well articulated by Estelle, we express our concern and disappointment: The plenary has shown too much distrust, especially with respect to issues such as nomination, and the general feeling is that many governments do not show flexibility or willingness to use existing networks but rather anticipate science to align to itself to governments' needs and desires. Is this how we envision a Science-Policy dialogue?
To sum up: IPBES can now really start moving forward: there is an approved work programme and budget, the outline for assessments and their timeline is quite well clarified, and all essential documents have been adopted to ensure that the MEP can go forward toward the actual scoping and execution of the assessments. LOADS of work for the MEP (info from Andras over a drink later on: estimated 300 working days per MEP member per year).
We can surely commend the Members, Bureau, Secretariat and the MEP for their hard work, and the outcomes look quite promising. The joy is genuine and well-deserved (well, of course: it is over!), but some serious challenges still ahead.
Friday, 13 December 2013
The past few days have been surprising as it became apparent that the position of stakeholders in the IPBES process was not at all sure or guaranteed from the wishes and perspectives of Member States. Indeed, in the Contact Group for Procedures yesterday, talks completely stalled and a seeming impasse developed on the one hand between the ‘developing’ countries block represented by G-77 and China and the European Union on the other.
The key issue has been who will have the right to nominate experts to the Multidisciplinary Expert Panel (MEP) as well as how experts can be nominated to take part in the contribution to assessments more generally. These are clearly critical questions, as the position of stakeholders (and their definition) will affect the credibility, legitimacy and transparency of the entire IPBES process. Scientists are the work force that will contribute their time and labour to putting together all assessments. How and by whom these scientists are nominated are crucial questions as the independence of experts and knowledge holders in the process are vital for the perception of IPBES reports as legitimate and credible.
The Contact Group on Procedures ground to halt last night as the G-77 and China proposed that in exchange for governments only being able to nominate experts to the MEP, they would be willing to be more flexible in the more general nomination of experts to specific assessments. However, they refused to specify in what form this flexibility would be until the EU and others agreed to the first stage regarding MEP nominations. Quickly and vociferously this was deemed completely unacceptable to the rest of the Members, not only because they sought a wider nomination process, but as an example of poor diplomatic practice and trade. For 90 minutes, Members conferred in two separate hushed groups at opposite sides of the negotiating room, with no avail. At 22:29, Brazil on behalf of the G-77 announced that they would be willing to demonstrate their flexibility after all: MEPs should be nominated by Members only, but if the MEPs identified ‘gaps’ for their ability to complete their work, these gaps may be filled with experts nominated by relevant stakeholders. Equally unacceptable to other Members, we adjourned wearily towards 11pm.
After regional and stakeholder meetings from early Friday, and compromise seemed distant and unlikely, and at the start of the Contact Group in the morning, the Members adjourned in a smaller group without the support or help of Bureau and MEPs to battle out a compromise solution. What they came up with is something of a middle ground: Governments are to nominate MEPs, while MEPs are to determine what support they need to be able to complete their work, and for this purpose they are to call for expert nominations from governments and relevant stakeholders. However, from these lists no more than 20% of selected experts are to be from the nominations by stakeholders.
This seems to be the only political compromise possible at this stage, with Africa threatening to withdraw from negotiations if these were not accepted as the final, and not interim, arrangements. This is likely to be a challenging institutional arrangement that needs to be tested – but at least we have forward momentum in this Contact Group again. Without Procedures we would have no IPBES!
Eszter Kovacs ESSRG