Researchers from Newcastle University, UK, created a tool to find the gaps in our understanding with regards to where and how human activities threaten wildlife and the environment, according to a study published in the journal Environmental Evidence.
Conservation experts have found significant gaps in available information about different locations and threats to specific animals. Most of the current threat maps are produced only at a national scale or larger. This means that a large volume of information has been lost when we base our knowledge on maps produced on such a large scale.
To address this issue, a team of researchers from Newcastle University designed a database that allows the public to access all the studies found in a specific area. For the authors, the database represents a valuable tool to plan future conservation initiatives even at a small local scale and prevent more extinctions. The database relies on a massive volume of literature capturing a wide range of threats, including an excessive collection of medicinal plants, hunting, pollution, and the spread of invasive species. These are all very difficult to detect in global databases. The new tool allows decision-makers at local and national scales to access relevant evidence and make appropriate decisions.
The study involved a detailed search and analysis of more than 14,000 articles, assessing maps with threats to wild species of animals and plants worldwide.
“The findings have important implications for how conservation actions are planned to reduce the rate of species extinctions. There is an urgent need to consolidate what we understand about where and how human activities threaten species with extinction. In this pursuit, this research is an important step forward, “ said lead author Francesca Ridley of Newcastle University’s School of Natural and Environmental Sciences. “Previous attempts to observe the global distribution of threats to species have relied on globally available data that don’t account for the knowledge gained from local-scale studies and don’t represent the full scope of human activities that can threaten species across terrestrial, freshwater, and marine realms. This study reinforces the need to use the findings of smaller-scale studies to inform our broader understanding of where species are directly at risk.”
During analysis, the authors also detected string biases in sampling. For example, threats to animals are three times more studied than plants. There are also twice as many studies on terrestrial species than freshwater and marine species combined. This bias can distort our understanding and make it more difficult to find what areas to prioritise.
“Further critical appraisal and extraction of the magnitude of threats for each study are necessary to translate the evidence into threat reduction activities. Reproducing the analyses for non-English languages and making further efforts to identify grey literature could also fill some of the gaps in threat mapping found. Therefore, the systematic map and corresponding database of articles present a valuable starting point for evidence-based decision-making for threat reduction at local and national scales,” added Francesca.
Ridley, F.A., Hickinbotham, E.J., Suggitt, A.J. et al. (2022) The scope and extent of literature that maps threats to species globally: a systematic map. Environ Evid 11, 26. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13750-022-00279-7