Story Research insights on reducing Biodiversity Loss

New insights into how environmental policies could be modified and extended to cover the issue of biodiversity loss from the EU funded research project ALARM 'Assessing LArge scale Risks for biodiversity with tested Methods'.

Release date 10/04/2007
Contributor Rania Spyropoulou
Keywords biodiversity, sustainable development
Concerned URL
Source Science for environmental policy, a service by the European Commission

Since the 90s, there has been increasing awareness on the need to protect biodiversity. In addition, there have been several international commitments to halting biodiversity losses. The Convention on Biological Diversity defined biodiversity as the “variability among all living organisms from all sources”, including “diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems”. In order to assess the effectiveness of policies designed for coping with biodiversity losses, measurements are needed. To date, methods to measure bio-diversity have mainly come from bioscience experts. However, the forces driving biodiversity losses emerge from society and economics - the domain called socioeconomics science - and have been less investigated.

As part of the EU-funded ALARM project1, a European team led by a German researcher studied the current state of the art in biodiversity measurement, the key pressures on biodiversity and the forces driving these pressures in order to define objectives for biodiversity conservation at policy level.

Biodiversity measurement tools exist for each level mentioned in the definition of biodiversity set by the Convention on Biological Diversity and all have their own disadvantages. First, when trying to count biodiversity at ecosystems level, scientific and political problems with national frontier definitions arise due to the fact that ecosystems overlap and may cross national borders meaning that, consequently, preservation of biodiversity could become a disputed international issue. Secondly, at the species level, measuring biodiversity is dependent on the contribution of people like bird watchers and hunters. However, their observations tend to be non-exhaustive and might thus be misleading. Thirdly, if the measurement of biodiversity at the genetic level has some advantages, it is still poorly understood.

The author notes that a better basis for defining biodiversity policies is socioeconomic pressure analysis. To this end, he recommends the following methodology applicable to physical, chemical and biological pressures (here the latter are used to illustrate the methodology):

Identification of the anthropogenic pressures on ecosystems (e.g. biological, invasions or GMO pollution)


Identification of the source of each pressure (e.g. accidental, deliberate or residual release of imported organisms or GMOs with the subsequent establishment of modified organisms in natural populations)


Identification of the driving force for each source (e.g. trade deregulation, travel and GMO production)


Definition of appropriate institutional mechanisms for each of the driving forces identified (e.g. extended phytosanitary controls etc., moratorium on deliberate releases of GMOs)


Definition of institutional orientations (e.g. recognising the potential harm from introduced species, no use of GMOs which can cross-fertilise with endogenous species)

The research team argues that biodiversity conservation can and should be integrated with broad environmental and sustainability strategies. At EU level, he suggests revising the EU Sustainable Development Strategy in order to achieve effective damage mitigation. From an operational point of view, he suggests the use of some innovative tools such as integrated assessment for all European legislation and compulsory risk inventories (as in the REACH program).

Overall, this method provides new insights into how environmental policies could be modified and extended to cover the issue of biodiversity.

1The ALARM project “Assessing LArge scale Risks for biodiversity with tested Methods” ( is supported by the 6th EU Framework programme, subpriority 6.3 “sustainable development, global change and ecosystems”.

Source: Joachim H. Spangenberg (2006) « Biodiversity pressure and the driving forces behind », Ecological Economics 61(1):146-158.