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PLOS Sustainability and Transformation celebrates World Biodiversity Day

PLOS Sustainability and Transformation Section Editor Brendan Fisher reflects on World Biodiversity Day and looks ahead to the future of the field.

Today marks the first International Day of Biological Diversity that will be celebrated without the man who is credited with coining the term “biological diversity.” Thomas Lovejoy, the renowned conservation biologist, passed away in December 2021. His term originally meant to convey the concept of the variation in species in a system, biological diversity (biodiversity) has come to convey a host of technical and non-technical meanings. The evolution from a technical definition (variation in genes, species, ecosystems) to one that incorporates a suite of meanings has given the concept a much wider reach and made it more accessible to the public across the globe.

In the academic literature, it appears that the first use of the term biodiversity is from a 1987 EO Wilson article titled “The Urgent Need to Map Biodiversity” [3]. That was 35 years ago. A simple ISI search suggests that in the past 5 years alone there have been 5,678 papers in academic journals that cover mapping and biodiversity. As such it may seem that Wilson’s ‘urgent call’ is being answered. However, the fact remains that across the planet, species and ecosystems are being lost at morally unconscionable rates. One of the roots of this moral dilemma is perhaps, that for the most part, we are unconscious of it. The United Nations’ International Day of Biological Diversity was created in 1993 to try to help overcome this problem. The goal of the day is to try to make our global community more aware of, and knowledgeable about, biodiversity writ large. The Convention on Biodiversity website has a list of 22 things you can do today to help raise awareness.

Those of us who work in any of the fields broadly connected to conservation science should take the day to heart and do what we can to spread awareness and understanding, not only of the largely gloomy state of decline of species and ecosystems around the world, but the also the incredible stories, journeys, and histories of species themselves and of successful, science-based interventions that are helping to protect our biodiversity (or at least slow down the loss). Many of us in this field, myself for sure, need to be better and more active communicators of the science we undertake.

But perhaps this day is also one for us to take pause and think about more than awareness and communication, but also to commit to making sure that at least one current project of ours is about finding solutions (or at least designing, implementing, and testing potential solutions) for some biodiversity challenge we are facing. A recent article titled ‘The past and future role of conservation science in saving biodiversity’ suggests that for the most part, peer-reviewed science is still focused on describing (and mapping) problems and diagnosing causes of biodiversity loss, and not on designing, testing, and implementing solutions. The authors offer examples of great success stories (e.g. South Asian Vultures) when conservation science moves beyond problem identification and becomes active in implementing solutions. Still, these cases seem to be the exception and not the rule.

However, this is just the type of research Plos Sustainability and Transformation is designed to publish. Its goal is “provide a forum for research that solves urgent challenges facing the sustainability of our global environment, economy, and societies around the world” [3]. It is about engaging in solutions, and the science behind the solutions. Our global biodiversity crisis is one of those challenges that demand urgent work not on problem identification, but on implementation, testing, refining, and then on days like today – celebrating.

Thomas Lovejoy will be missed across the conservation world today. His career, fittingly, was a series of positions working for organizations trying to implement solutions for (or at least slow the decimation of) biodiversity. His career makes a good guide for our work in the field and at PLOS.

[1] Wilson, EO, AN URGENT NEED TO MAP BIODIVERSITY. Scientist [0890-3670], 1987 vol:1 iss:6 pg:11 -11

[2] Williams, DR, Balmford, A, Wilcove, DS. The past and future role of conservation science in saving biodiversity. Conservation Letters. 2020; 13:e12720.

[3] Koh LP (2022) PLOS Sustainability and Transformation, empowering immediate actions for a sustainable future. PLOS Sustain Transform 1(3): e0000004.

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