PREDICTS database shines a light on ‘dark data’- making projected biodiversity responses to human pressures freely available

Despite a commitment being made during the 1993 Convention on Biological Diversity to reduce the rate of global biodiversity loss by 2010, indicators of species richness and abundance continue to show unrelenting declines.

Since 1970, vertebrate populations worldwide have decreased by around 30%, with between 12% and 55% of vertebrate, invertebrate and plant groups currently facing extinction, and amphibians suffering an unprecedented 42% species-wide decline. These reported figures are likely to underestimate the true scale of species loss due to a scarcity of studies and the narrow scope of available biodiversity indicators.

Since 2012, the PREDICTS (Projecting Responses of Ecological Diversity In Changing Terrestrial Systems) project team have amassed an incredible and continuously growing database consisting of over 3.6 million biodiversity records representing more than 50,000 species covering 32,000 sites. The most recent PREDICTS paper , which has been published in Ecology and Evolution, describes the project to date, highlighting the open-access nature of the dataset, making it available for use to all.

Julie Day, a PhD student from the University of Exeter’s biosciences department, a co-author on the publication, says "human activities are having large effects on the natural environment. The PREDICTS project offers the most comprehensive dataset in order to understand the relationship between different human activities and local biodiversity. Datasets like this are vital for policy makers to make informed decisions about the future of our planet."

Existing large datasets that look at changes in biodiversity over time are not always linked to site-specific information on the human pressures areas face and so cannot be used to project biodiversity changes into the future. The authors call for further data, which will be made freely available through updates to the database, with an emphasis on three priority categories: bees from outside Western Europe; soil invertebrates and fungi; and geographic islands. The ultimate aim of PREDICTS is that it will have the potential to separate out the effects of different drivers of biodiversity change, enabling it to answer both policy-relevant and fundamental scientific questions.

The PROJECTS team continues to seek datasets linked to peer-reviewed publications, preferably those describing species abundance or biomass over time during changes in land use or land use intensity. Authors wishing to contribute their data are invited to complete an online form, available at www.predicts.org.uk/contribute.html. As with PREDICTS, the team will are aiming to make this data freely available.

Written by Molly Payne for Biosciences PressGang

Date: 11 January 2017

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