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Policy Monitoring in Local Biodiversity Management

  1.      Policy Monitoring in Local Biodiversity Management

Policy implementation and evaluation are crucial stages in the policy cycle aimed towards the success of the entire policy making process. Policy implementation also requires responsive evaluation (monitoring) to ensure policy outcomes are achieved (Maetz and Balie, 2008; Rosenbaum, 2011; Kraft, 2016). This research discusses assessment as a means of monitoring local biodiversity policies, initiatives and their effectiveness. It discusses local biodiversity policy monitoring through the lens of assessing policy performance and developing a responsive information system.

Monitoring may be described as a continuous evaluative process from initiation to implementation to completion. Monitoring and evaluation are also the basic means of assessing whether a plan or project meets its targets and objectives (Global Environment Division – World Bank, 1998). Monitoring and evaluation may also mean “the identification and assessment of threats and problems in a manner that allows managers to respond effectively – (this) is a central component of good conservation management” (Sheil, 2001).

Hence, biodiversity monitoring is the “repeated observation or measurement of biological diversity to determine its status and trend” (BioMAT, n.d. para.1). Biodiversity monitoring is further defined as “the systematic and focused observation and measurement of present changes of biodiversity in its various forms (genes, taxa, structures, functions, ecosystems) usually within a defined context e.g. a research question or a management goal” (Juergens, n.d).

Noss (1990:1) observed that “biodiversity is presently a minor consideration in environmental policy because it is quite broad and vague a concept to be applied to real-world regulatory and management problems”. The research discussed three primary attributes of biodiversity – “composition, structure, and function” in a four-level organisational structure – “regional landscape, community-ecosystem, population-species, and genetic”.  The research focused on terrestrial ecosystems and identified indicators of these attributes for environmental monitoring purposes. The research applied a top-down, coarse-scale assessment of “landscape pattern, vegetation, habitat structure, and species distributions” with rigorous research and monitoring applied to “high-risk ecosystem and elements of biodiversity”, while less rigorous monitoring was applied to the total landscape (Noss, 1990:2).

Biodiversity monitoring uses indicators due to biodiversity complexity, inadequate taxonomy and the cost of biodiversity assessments. These indicators may be qualitative (presence or absence of an indicator) or quantitative (number, density, distribution of indicators in the habitat) (BioMAT, n.d.). Juergens (n.d.) observed that assessing recent biodiversity changes provides baseline information for understanding system properties and dynamics with four basic goals – measurement of the direction and speed of present change, identifying external forces responsible for observed change, understanding the mechanisms and processes, and to enable future prediction. The approaches to biodiversity monitoring may include “neutral observation (what happens?), early warning system (when must we take action?), indicators of biodiversity change (what is important?), causality (why does change happen?), process analysis (how does change happen?), model-based approach (do we understand the full picture?) and experimental approach (how can we intervene?)” (Juergens, n.d.).

Biodiversity monitoring can have direct relevance to policy making – either as baseline information to inform the policy making process, or to meet scientific interests and to define feasible political efforts towards conservation and sustainable development of biodiversity (Juergens, n.d.). Biodiversity monitoring is an obligatory responsibility in The Convention on Biological Diversity which obliges each signatory Member State to “as far as possible and as appropriate, to identify components of biological diversity important for its conservation and sustainable use …, to monitor, through sampling and other techniques, the components of biological diversity identified…, as well as to identify processes and categories of activities which have or are likely to have significant adverse impacts on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, and monitor their effects through sampling and other techniques (Article 7)” (BioMAT, n.d. para.4).

Biodiversity monitoring differs depending on its scale, type, indicators and scope (BioMAT, n.d.; Juergens, n.d.; Roberts-Pichette, 1995). Biodiversity monitoring at the global level and within international research programs involves “dealing with global environmental change and monitoring of the change of biodiversity” which have recently increased in global attention (Juergens, n.d.).

Biodiversity monitoring in terms of scope, is explicitly embedded in several policy documents which include the “European Environmental Action Plan, the European Biodiversity Strategy, and the 2010 target of halting the loss of biodiversity. Member States are legally bound by the Habitats and Birds Directives to monitor biodiversity” (BioMAT, n.d. para.5).

The EU-wide monitoring (EuMon) project is a policy support project with applied methods and systems of surveillance to monitor two main components of biodiversity: species and habitats. Different properties of these components of biodiversity were monitored which included “trends in populations, distribution, community composition, habitat quality etc”. This method collected data on the “presence/absence, counts, updated data, population composition, phenology and other measures”. However, the BioMAT tool provides support for the design and analysis of biodiversity monitoring” (BioMAT, n.d. para.6).

A study of the Mediterranean Basin (Europe) revealed that the “abandonment of traditional land-use practices has been reported as one of the main causes of decline for open-habitat species. Data from large-scale bird and butterfly monitoring schemes in the north-east Iberian Peninsula were used to evaluate the impact that abandonment of traditional land-use practices has had on local biodiversity. The patterns shown by indicators were in line with the changes occurring in forest cover in the monitoring sites. This study reveals that multi-species indicators based on monitoring data from different taxonomic groups (birds and butterflies) may usefully be employed to track impacts of environmental change on biodiversity” (Herrando et. al., 2015).

In 2001, the European Council agreed to “halt biodiversity loss by 2010” (regarded as Agenda 2010) and conduct regular assessment of biodiversity which was necessary to inform the political process. Thus, monitoring is a fundamental tool which provides answers to decision makers’ questions and includes “coordination and standardization of biodiversity monitoring across Europe; efficient and effective spending of the limited resources available for monitoring; and more regular and integrated reporting of monitoring results” (Henle, n.d.). Apart from the commitment to achieve Agenda 2010, there is uncertainty about how to monitor biodiversity and the assurance of meeting the targets. Policymakers need to be assured of the “effectiveness of policies and their implementations to protect and use biodiversity in a sustainable manner to aid decision making and public access to the assessments.” (Henle, n.d.).

In view of the above scenario in Europe, it is necessary to discuss biodiversity monitoring practices in the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom signed an agreement under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and consequently aims to achieve the biodiversity goals and targets “the Aichi targets – 2010, by 2020, at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water, and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscape and seascapesand set out in the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020”).  This involves developing and using a “set of indicators to monitor and report on progress towards meeting these international goals and targets” (Joint Nature Conservation Committee, 2016b).

In the United Kingdom, the responsibility for the environment and biodiversity lies principally at the country level. The specific elements of biodiversity are addressed independently in collaboration with other countries (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) in the United Kingdom. The UK Biodiversity Strategy objectives are to “halt the loss of biodiversity; increase awareness, understanding and enjoyment of biodiversity; restore and enhance biodiversity through better planning, design and practice; development of an effective management framework; and ensure knowledge on biodiversity is available to all policy makers and practitioners” (Joint Nature Conservation Committee, 2016c).

The UK Biodiversity Strategy is implemented using the UK Biodiversity Framework which is prepared to identify the activities to aid the achievement of the member country’s strategies, “in pursuit of the Aichi targets”. Therefore, the framework is prepared, directed and implemented by each country in the United Kingdom, assisted and coordinated by Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – Defra and Joint Nature Conservation Committee – JNCC (JNCC and Defra, 2012:1). Consequently, there are differences (in details and approach) in the strategies, but they are based on the same principles and attempt same global targets. The common categories in these strategies are “international/European context, facilitating and contributing to common country approaches and solutions, evidence provision and reporting” (JNCC and Defra, 2012:2).

The UK Government published the Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 9 – Biodiversity and Geological Conservation which stipulates the Government’s national policies on the protection of biodiversity and geological conservation through the planning system. The PPS9 provides non-technical and non-scientific advice which is based on key principles which require planning policies and decisions to “avoid, mitigate or compensate for harm” and seeks means of enhancing and restoring biodiversity and geology (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, 2006:2). In addition, the PPS9 contained provisions that enhance addressing biodiversity through the Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS) and the Local Development Framework (LDF). This is the fundamental basis for the preparation and implementation of the local biodiversity policies and action plans across the United Kingdom.

A study of the criteria used in biodiversity loss monitoring surveys while using secondary data sources (UK farmland bird data) stated that “no single index” can reveal all elements of biodiversity change (Bucklands et al., 2005:1). In a research aimed at developing a list and order by priority the attributes of biodiversity monitoring programme in the United Kingdom, a collaborative approach was applied to develop a list of 25 attributes of “biodiversity monitoring schemes”. This research involved 52 experts in biodiversity monitoring who ordered these attributes from most elemental (such as articulate the objectives and gain sufficient participants) to most aspirational (for instance, electronic data capture in the field, reporting change annually) to assist in prioritizing resources to develop biodiversity monitoring programmes (Pocock, et al. 2015).

The Global Environment Division – World Bank (1998) utilised a monitoring and evaluation plan to monitor implementation performance and project impacts on the status and trends of biodiversity. The research by the World Bank adopted a descriptive assessment method to monitor implementation performance of biodiversity policies in the United Kingdom while focussing on habitat loss, threat levels and land use change. However, this research will apply a descriptive assessment of the integration and monitoring of local biodiversity policy implementation. In the same vein, this research on local biodiversity policy management will utilise descriptive case study assessment to monitor policy performance.

In Canada, the biodiversity conservation policy uses a top-down and ecosystem-based approach stemming from the Federal level to other jurisdictional levels (Roberts-Pichette, 1995; Minister of Supply and Services Canada, 1995; Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005; Greenfacts, 2016b). Historically, for more than ten years, these (federal, provincial and territorial) governments have been collaborating to sustain Canada’s biodiversity. They collectively develop a blueprint for the “sustainable use and conservation of Canada’s natural resources”. This blueprint is called Canadian Biodiversity Strategy and currently only six provinces and territories have drafted their biodiversity strategies. (Biodivcanada, 2015: para.5).

The national biodiversity strategy has five broad goals – “sustainable conservation of biodiversity and use of biological resources; improve the understanding of ecosystems and increase resource management capacity; promote an understanding of the need for sustainable conservation of biodiversity and use of biological resources; develop incentives and legislation that support sustainable conservation of biodiversity and use of biological resources; and collaborate with other countries for sustainable conservation of biodiversity and use of biological resources and equitable share of benefits from the utilization of genetic resources”(Minister of Supply and Services Canada, 1995:2). In addition to coordinating the implementation of national and international elements of the strategy by the Federal and Provincial Governments, one of the proposed mechanisms for implementing the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy is reporting (monitoring) the status and trend of biodiversity. Operationally, the national biodiversity strategy is implemented through various sub-national biodiversity strategies at provincial and territorial levels. Achieving the national biodiversity strategy is crystallized on the biodiversity outcomes framework which stipulates the steps and activities to achieve the aims and objectives of the national biodiversity strategy (Minister of Supply and Services Canada, 1995), as shown in Figure 2.1 below.

The Canadian biodiversity outcomes framework is developed to complement, advance, identify and connect “current and future priorities, to engage Canadians in planning and implementation and to report on progress” (Biodivcanada, 2015: para.5). The Canadian biodiversity outcomes framework highlights and guides progress towards Canada’s Biodiversity Outcomes. The Canadian biodiversity outcomes framework gathers information and coordinates efforts to assess, plan, and track biodiversity related activities and initiatives in collaboration with government agencies and non-government partners in Canada” (Government of Canada, nbd:4), as shown in Figure 2.2 below.

Figure 2.2 – Canadian Biodiversity Outcomes Framework

What Conservation and Use Outcomes

Long Description for the Biodiversity Outcomes Framework: Focus on “Why” “What” “How”

Source: Government of Canada (nbd) “Caring for Canada’s Biodiversity – highlights of Canada’s 4th National Report to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Government of Canada, p.4 ( para.5.


A practical application of the Canadian biodiversity framework was in a research in 1996 by Independent World Commission to understand the ocean development policy design and development process. The Independent World Commission on the Ocean conducted a regional assessment of the public perception of ocean’s management policy and practice. The assessment utilised both primary and secondary data sources. It assessed the “perceptions of marine pollution sources, principles and values in Canada’s ocean policy, current practice in sustainable ocean development and analysis of ocean community attributes” (Tillman, 2000:47). At least 50% of the respondents indicated that the absence of the biodiversity principle as means of assessing the effectiveness of the policy had negative impacts on ocean resources and policy development. This result influenced the inclusion of biodiversity considerations in ocean development policy. However, there is a need to ascertain the precise trend and status of biodiversity loss across Canada. This includes Canada’s rate of deforestation which accounts for “0.4% of global deforestation” (Natural Resources Canada, 2008: para.4). The number of species of tree per hectare is 450 for the tropical rain forest of Brazil, while it is 180 for all of Canada (International Conservation Fund of Canada, 2017). In addition, 10.6% (1.05 million km2) of Canada’s terrestrial area (land and freshwater), and 0.9% (51 thousand km2) of its marine territory have been recognized as protected as of 2015.

The Government of Canada (Natural Resources Canada) monitored biodiversity with earth observation data through BioSpace (a joint project of the Canadian Forest Service, Canadian Space Agency and the University of British Columbia Satellite). BioSpace applied the remote sensing technique to gather data on four landscape characteristics (“topography, productivity, land cover and disturbance”) to monitor biodiversity on a national scale. The spatial-temporal monitoring of landscape characteristics provided a potential early warning system identifying where the critical threats to biodiversity are and attention should be directed (Natural Resources Canada, 2016). This may be in the form of biodiversity hotspots or areas of greatest biodiversity threats.

In the light of this, Wanjui (2013) applied two biodiversity assessment methods (in-situ and ex-situ biodiversity conservation) to assess biodiversity and plan for different biodiversity conservation approaches. He concluded that ex-situ conservation involves the “conservation of biological diversity outside of their natural habitats” and it is crucial in “recovery programmes for endangered species” (Wanjui, 2013:2). It provides a good platform for research opportunities on the components of biological diversity. He stated that in-situ biodiversity assessment for conservation is focused on conservation of species within the natural environment and is the most appropriate method of assessment for biodiversity conservation because of the ease of creating a high biodiversity area and closeness to natural habitat (Wanjui, 2013).

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Report (2005) applied an assessment of biodiversity responses (changes in biodiversity in response to change or disturbance) while placing human well-being as the central focus for assessment, recognizing that people make decisions concerning ecosystems based on a range of values related to well-being, plus values of biodiversity and ecosystems. The assessment viewed biodiversity responses as means of assessing values at different scales, with strong links to ecosystem service values and well-being arising at each of these scales. The well-being of local people dom­inates the assessment of many responses (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005:69).

Stanford University (2016) observed that the protected natural land constitutes about 13 percent of the world’s land area. The majority of the earth’s species are found in “ecological gray areas”, located within a continuum of pristine wilderness and parking lot. The protection of these species in such ecological areas is increasingly challenging due to the “time-consuming field survey” to assess biodiversity. Invariably, decision making for habitat and species protection is challenging. Researchers at Stanford have developed a technique to assess biodiversity through detailed assessment, charting and study based on tree cover. The findings of the research are relevant to policymakers in their effort to “protect biodiversity and endangered species” (Stanford University, 2016: para.2).

Butchart et al., (2010:1) observed that “most indicators of the state of biodiversity (covering species’ population trends, extinction risk, habitat extent and condition, and community composition) showed declines, with no significant recent reductions in rate, whereas indicators of pressures on biodiversity (including resource consumption, invasive alien species, nitrogen pollution, overexploitation, and climate change impacts) showed increases. Despite some local successes and increasing responses (including extent and biodiversity coverage of protected areas, sustainable forest management, policy responses to invasive alien species, and biodiversity-related aid), the rate of biodiversity loss does not appear to be slowing” (Butchart et al., 2010:1).

Similar conclusions appear in a study of species’ threat status and trends using the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List Indices (RLIs). The “Red List Indices (RLIs) demonstrates the rate of species change in the overall threat status (i.e. projected relative extinction-risk), based on population and range size and trends as quantified by Red List categories. The study utilised information from a high proportion of species worldwide and revealed that the world’s bird species show that their overall threat status has deteriorated during the years (1988-2004) in all biogeographic realms and ecosystems” (Butchart et al., 2005:1).

Furthermore, while focussing on biodiversity standards and certification to assess performance, an assessment by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reviewed the biodiversity safeguards contained within 36 standards (“to protect biodiversity, limit threats to biodiversity and promote biodiversity enhancement”) and certi­fication schemes, drawn from eight business sectors (such as agriculture, biotrade, carbon offset, finance, fisheries, forestry, mining, and tourism), and concluded that there is a great deal of variation between stan­dards with regard to the coverage of biodiversity, definitions used, and the measures adopted for biodiversity protection (UNEP-WCMC & SCBD, 2011:7).

This research has discussed various approaches to biodiversity monitoring (reporting) highlighting different mechanisms, methods and foci at different levels but identified that there are commonalities in terms of the status and trend of biodiversity. The current research will apply a descriptive assessment of biodiversity policies in order to measure the achievement of local biodiversity conservation within the scope of the national biodiversity strategy and the biodiversity outcomes framework. However, this approach will be hampered by lack of knowledge of vital primary data biodiversity information. Therefore, there is a dire need for a responsive biodiversity information system to record changes, progress and achievement at the local and provincial levels.

  1.    Local Biodiversity Information Management Systems

The proper understanding and articulation of issues in the policy cycle (from agenda setting to evaluation) requires responsive, reliable and relevant evidence-based data to foster policy decision making. Policymaking is a dynamic and continuous process; policymakers are controlled by political processes and institutions; environmental policymaking is a controversial mixture of politics and science; science tends to legitimate policy, regardless of differences in decision making polity. On this premise, political institutions have not been factual, truthful and responsive to the public by suppressing, for ideological reasons mostly, scientific findings and hard evidence revealing potential threats from environmental challenges – climate change, ozone layer depletion, habitat loss etc. (Rosenbaum, 2011).

As a result, more public participation in advancing and applying scientific knowledge is encouraged and refers to the dynamic interplay between science, expert knowledge and citizens in democratic settings. Readjusting scientific expertise in a more civic manner stems from citizen participation in production, validation and application of scientific knowledge. This ensures a sound evidence base and ultimately contributes to meet the biodiversity strategy objectives of integrating activities and monitoring the status and trend of biodiversity conservation (Bäckstrand, 2003).

A significant challenge to biodiversity conservation is the inadequacy of knowledge of the array of the existing biodiversity.  The number of species that exist on Earth has been estimated as 1.5million (Keller and Botkin, 2008; Dolman (2000), varying from 5million to 30 million (IUCN, 2008) and 8.7million (Zimmer, 2011). This is in addition to new species discovered annually and new groups located. However, little is known about the ecosystem functions and their response to changes (Rands, et al., 2010). In addition to lack of scientific information, there is an overall lack of awareness of the importance of biodiversity among policy-makers and the wider public. Policymakers commonly undervalue biodiversity when formulating government policies in areas such as agriculture, fisheries, and industry (Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, 2010). The lack of adequate knowledge and awareness can be address by information presented in different forms such as maps, survey results, scientific journals, databases, websites etc. The important issue here is the relevance and applicability of the information to the policy cycle and how it contributes to biodiversity management and conservation.

Halpern, et al., (2008) prepared a global map of human impacts on marine ecosystem using an additive model. They concluded that “the management and conservation” of the earth’s oceans need the integration of geodata on the “distribution and intensity of human activities” and the extent of their effects on “marine ecosystems”. “An ecosystem-specific, multiscale spatial model” was developed to integrate 17 universal data sets of “anthropogenic drivers of ecological change for 20 marine ecosystems”. The resulting analytical model and maps enhanced “conservation resource allocation, implementation of ecosystem-based management; and informed marine spatial planning, education and basic research” (Halpern, 2008:948).

Due to the need for issue specific and high volume data for biodiversity decision making, Kelling et al., (2009) applied data-intensive science as a new paradigm for biodiversity studies. Data-intensive science (Newman et al., 2003) takes a “data-driven” approach in which information evolves from the data, instead of the traditional “knowledge-driven” approach.

Recent studies (Newman et al., 2003; Rands, et al., 2010) demonstrated the need for the development of mega data and their application in scientific analysis. The goal was to create cross-sectoral data regularity and storage strategies to make scientific data available. There was more focus on the cyberinfrastructure required to create and provide access to big data than on how the creation and control of data will affect scientific processes (Kelling et al., 2009).

The need for large volume databases witnessed the introduction of the “Global Living Planet Index” (GLPI) which measures biodiversity by collecting data of vertebrate species and assessing an “average change in abundance over time” (World Wildlife Fund, 2016:18), while the “Terrestrial Living Planet Index” (TLPI) involves the assessment of many habitats and manmade environments to populate the databases (World Wildlife Fund, 2016:22). These databases allow for better articulation of the patterns behind population decline on local or global levels. The databases recognize five categories of threats – “habitat loss and degradation, species overexploitation, pollution, invasive species and disease and climate change” (World Wildlife Fund, 2016:22).

The European Commission (2017), in an attempt to contribute to avert biodiversity loss in 2020, developed policy directions on nature and biodiversity through enacting nature and biodiversity laws, species protection, green infrastructure, Natura 2000, knowledge, data collection and analysis. The European Commission observed that “effective policymaking for biodiversity and ecosystem services relies on continuous research and innovation” and aims to advance the biodiversity knowledge base by building and informing policy with current scientific data and information. The Biodiversity Information System for Europe (BISE), which contributes to the enhancement of the knowledge and evidence base for the EU’s environmental policy, became the main interface for biodiversity data and information sharing (European Commission, 2017). However, in practice, the EU 2010 biodiversity baseline and updated EU biodiversity indicators and other networked databases such as the “Shared Environmental Information System and Global Monitoring for Environment and Security, the European Forest Data Centre and the LUCAS – Land Use Cover Area Frame Survey” (European Commission, 2017: para.3) were the key sources of information.

Similarly, Henle (n.d.) developed a European Monitoring (EuMon) database to coordinate and order biodiversity monitoring, effective and efficient resource utilization for monitoring, and for regular and integrated dissemination of monitoring results in Europe. This monitoring scheme (EuMon) focused on existing monitoring schemes, methods and approaches suitable for monitoring species and habitats, and methods for systematic reserve site selection and identification of gaps in the Natura 2000 network (Henle, n.d.).

Chape, et al. (2005) in a study developed a database of the “numerical, spatial and geographic attributes of protected areas”. This study was enhanced by the examination of the biodiversity coverage of these protected areas while applying “species, habitats or biogeographic classifications”. The study concluded that “conservation effectiveness indicators” need to be considered in the database to “enhance the value of protected areas data as an indicator for meeting global biodiversity targets” (Chape, et al. 2005:4). The goal is to assess the level of achievement of conservation initiatives using databases and information analysis as the base for decision making.

DEFRA (2007:13) argued that “there is need to develop innovative cost-effective methods for surveillance of species and habitats and continue to develop innovative methods for sharing information for managers and policy makers through the National Biodiversity Network (NBN), Local Record Centres and Biodiversity Action Reporting System (BARS); to accumulate and share knowledge more effectively through initiatives like the Centre for Evidence Based Conservation (CEBC); to maintain taxonomic expertise and develop new methods of identification; and to explore new policy options”.

The Government of Canada established the Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility (CBIF) in 2003 to enhance the efforts of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) and to explore innovative means of organising, exchanging, analysing and disseminating primary data on biological species of interest. This enhances access to information and provides a useful resource that enables social and economic decisions to “conserve our biodiversity, sustainable use of biological resources and monitor and control pests and disease” (Government of Canada, 2015a: para.1).

Similarly, Canadensys is a Canada-wide database on biodiversity information held in biological collections and publicly accessible. Canadensys’ aim was to “collect, digitize, publish and georeference 3 million specimens (20% of the global species), through a network of compatible databases like “the Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility – CBIF and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility – GBIF”. The current structure of the Canadensys’ network consists of over 11 participating universities, five botanical gardens, and two museums, with over 13 million specimens. Canadensys is a dynamic, central web portal which enables access to the network’s species-occurence geospatial data. Canadensys implements cross-analyses of species’ geospatial and environmental data and enhances the “understanding of global environmental issues and the development of sound biodiversity policies” in Canada (Canadensys, n.d.).

A biodiversity information system is a vital information tool that could be used to store, analyse and present data to inform decision-making processes. This information system could be updated to provide specific information such as a diversity index to assist the understanding and knowledge of the trend and status of biodiversity loss.

A diversity index is a “mathematical measure of species’ diversity in a community. Diversity indices provide more information about community composition than simply species richness (i.e., the number of species present); they also take the relative abundances of different species into account” (Hurlbert, 1971; Beals, et al. 2000; Barcelona Field Studies Centre, 2017). It is also a statistic used to approximate the diversity of a set of species, in which each species belongs to a classic group (National Institute of Standards and Technology, 2016).

Lahde et al. (1999) applied an ecosystem index to examine the abundance of tree species and variation in tree size, age and genetic composition which was used to generate the list of threatened species and categorize their habitat needs in the National Forest. This research aimed to “develop a mathematically formulated within-stand diversity model and create a diversity level classification” (Lahde et al. 1999:214).

Similarly, Wessels, et al. (2004) used vegetation index data to assess the effects of human-induced land degradation in northern South Africa. This research used the National Land Cover (NLC) data from Landsat Thematic Mapper imagery to calculate the Relative Degradation Impact (RDI). The research observed that the RDI, spanning the “land capability units”, varied from “1% to 20% with an average of 9%”. The research concluded that there has not been severe “reduction in ecosystem function within the degraded areas” but the RDI indicated a “reduction in productivity” (Wessels, et al, 2004:54).

Chu et al. (2011) in a study of the comparative regional assessment of impacts on freshwater fish biodiversity offered in-depth assessment of freshwater fish species biodiversity as regards environmental and stress metrics across Canada. “Species presence-absence data were used to assess richness and rarity indices. An environmental index was assessed using growing degree-days above 50C, elevation range within the watershed, mean annual sunshine hours, and mean annual vapour pressure. Conservation priority rankings were developed for the watersheds using an integrative index of the three indices. The study concluded that Southern Ontario and British Columbia watersheds were rated high because they contained the greatest biodiversity and the most stress” (Chu, et al. 2011:626-628).

A City Biodiversity Index (CBI) was developed by the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (SCBD) in 2010 as a self-assessment tool to enhance the “roles of cities and local authorities to implement the national biodiversity strategies and action plans (NBSAPs)”. CBI was aimed at gauging biodiversity conservation efforts and committing to reducing the rate of biodiversity loss. CBI consist of three aspects – “native biodiversity, the ecosystem services provided by native biodiversity, and the governance and management of native biodiversity”. The ecological footprint of cities, differential extinction of species, differential land use features in built-up areas and many more concerns were considered in selecting the indicators. 23 indicators were selected from these three aspects and each of the indicators have a score of four. The CBI is a fluid process, mathematically robust, focused on biodiversity, varied and extensive, self-assessed with potential for building databases and involved a range of experts and stakeholders. However, the CBI is deficient because of the difficulty of selecting universal indicators with available data, and scoring difficulty due to different ecozones. Moreover, the lack of knowledge makes ecosystem services indicators difficult to design (’s%20Manual-for-the-City-Biodiversity-Index18April2012.pdf).

In summary, the existing literature on biodiversity has discussed the main challenges of local biodiversity management in Europe, United Kingdom and Canada and emphasized and highlighted the current trends and status of biodiversity and how biodiversity loss can be averted by 2020. Researches have confirmed that the “loss of habitat has been the main threat to biodiversity loss in Canada”. In respect to the focus of this research, this would be examined from the terrestrial ecosystem perspective” (Federal, Provincial and Territorial Governments of Canada, 2010:14).

This literature review observed that little has been said about the policy gaps such as absence of the local and sub-national biodiversity strategies in Newfoundland and Labrador, uncoordinated biodiversity policies, improper monitoring and inadequate and non-responsive local biodiversity information system in Newfoundland and Labrador. In the light of these, the research gaps include the lack of sufficient knowledge about the interplay between urban and regional planning processes (development permit process, land sub-division policies, urban and regional development policies and information system) and biodiversity considerations in many policy decision-making processes, while focussing on ecosystem (habitat) diversity. The current research would explore means of coordinating and mainstreaming biodiversity policies, monitoring progress towards the achievement of biodiversity goals and develop a local biodiversity index for biodiversity profiling.

Due to time and resource constraints, this research will apply the principles of the CBI, will identify selected indicators and set up the framework for a custom-made local biodiversity information system that will be used to calculate the local biodiversity index. This research will not involve conducting in-depth data collection on the indicators; instead will develop a local biodiversity index based on secondary data from policy provisions on local biodiversity, its application in planning permit application processes, number of planned local biodiversity initiatives, biodiversity offsetting, and government commitments to biodiversity. These criteria will have equal scores to add up to the local biodiversity score (index) which could be used to monitor the status and trends of biodiversity loss over time.

The existing literature on the ecological mechanism by which plant diversity and species composition are assessed and controlled is scarce, especially when applied to ecosystem diversity (Van der Heijden, et al.,1998), planning permit process and regional policy development. This research will advance on these knowledge and research gaps and suggest solutions and recommendations to address the biodiversity policy issues identified.

  1.      Theoretical Framework

A theory is normative when it provides an explanation of what ought to be and attempts to explain what it is (Ostrom, 1991; Donaldson and Preston, 1995). Theory involves developing a body of knowledge and its process. The theoretical framework for this research on the implementation and evaluation of local biodiversity policies is the concept of planetary boundaries (Rockstrom et al., 2009a).

Rockstrom et al., (2009a) proposed a new path to global sustainability in which they described planetary boundaries within which humanity can operate safely. “Planetary boundaries define a science based safe operating space for human prosperity in a world with growing development needs and rising environmental risks” (Schultz et al., 2013).

The planetary boundary concept was used to estimate a safe operating space for humanity considering the Earth system’s functions and processes (Rockstrom et al., 2009a; Schultz et al., 2013). They established nine vital earth processes for which there are boundaries which subsequently define the thresholds (Rockstrom, et al. 2009a; Rockstrom, et al. 2009b; Bradshaw and Sykes, 2014).

Thresholds are intrinsic features of systems and are determined along a continuum of control dynamics, while boundaries are human determined values of the control dynamics set at a distance to define the safe operating space beyond which is the zone of uncertainty (Rockstrom, et al. 2009a). However, the determination of safe distance is dependent on standard judgement and societal response to risk and uncertainty.

The concept of planetary boundaries stems from the presumption of the earth’s dynamic system, safe limits, finite resources, interrelated earth thresholds and the paradigm shift from the Holocene era to the Anthropocene era (Rockstrom, et al. 2009a; Rockstrom, et al. 2009b; Bradshaw and Sykes, 2014) which signals humanity’s overuse of the planet’s limited resources.  A framework based on ‘planetary boundaries’ was proposed to define a safe operating space for humanity and is associated with the planet’s biophysical subsystems or processes.

To this view, nine ecosystem processes (planetary boundaries) have been identified and these include “climate change, biodiversity loss, change to the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, freshwater use, land system change, ocean acidification, stratospheric ozone depletion, chemical pollution and aerosol loading” (Rockstrom, et al. 2009a:1; Rockstrom, et al. 2009b:472). Four out of the nine planetary boundaries identified, are currently being exceeded and these include climate change, biodiversity loss, land use (deforestation) and nitrogen emissions (Rockstrom, et al. 2009a, European Commission, 2015), as shown in Figure 2.3 below.

Furthermore, the various interaction between the different boundaries were examined and two core boundaries (climate change and biodiversity loss which have been exceed) were identified to connect to all other planetary boundaries. These core boundaries are capable of changing the Earth system into a new state (European Commission, 2015). This is vital in policy development to avoid a hostile Earth System.

Figure 2.3 – Planetary Boundaries

Source: Rockström, et al., (2009b:472)

Figure 2.2 indicates nine boundaries and their biophysical safe operating spaces (Rockström et al., 2009a). Green zones denote the biophysical ‘safe operating space’ for human development and because of our limited knowledge of the complex social environmental interactions of the Earth system, the planetary boundaries concept applies a precautionary approach (Rockström et al., 2009a). “Scientific analysis clearly confirms that the current rate of biodiversity loss is unsustainable and risky for human societies, and transgresses the safe boundary at a planetary scale. This boundary is measured in terms of the extinction rate (number of species per million species per year). The proposed boundary is 10 species/million species/year, while the current status is over 100 species/million species/year, and the preindustrial value was 0.1 – 1 species/million species/year” (Schultz, et al., 2013:1). Consequently, this ecosystem process rate of biodiversity loss has been exceeded approximately ten times.

Rockstrom, et al. (2009a) stated that the planetary boundaries approach is embedded in three scientific inquiries – the scale of human action vis-a-vis the Earth’s capacity to sustain it; understanding essential Earth system processes; and the framework of resilience and its connections to complex dynamics. “An important proposition is that the planetary boundaries approach focuses on the biophysical processes of the Earth system that determine the self-regulating capacity of the planet (Rockstrom, et al. 2009b:472). Similarly, planetary boundaries consider the role of large scale Earth system processes’ thresholds which when crossed may initiate non-linear changes in the functioning of the Earth system, thereby challenging social–ecological resilience at regional to global scales (Rockstrom, et al. 2009a).

The interaction and interdependence of boundaries (biophysical) necessitate theories that apply a holistic view to biodiversity conservation and management while examining the relationship and interdependence between ecosystem functions and resultant changes. In addition, the planetary boundary of biodiversity loss is observed to have been exceeded (Schultz, et al., 2007; Rockstrom, et al. 2009a). Planetary boundaries and the safe operating space for humanity, therefore, are relevant to this research in scope and context.

The fundamental notions of the concept of planetary boundaries are the focus on the safe operating space, limits, non-linear interactions and interdependence. Planetary boundaries and the safe operating space provide a structured framework for categorization and assessing biophysical features and their boundaries. In many instances, planetary boundaries provide scholastic means of assessing situations. The application of the general principles of planetary boundaries and safe operating space is relevant and applicable in biological diversity (Rockstrom, et al. 2009a; Rockstrom, et al. 2009b; Schultz, 2013; Bradshaw and Sykes, 2014).

Advancement in theories and the existing body of knowledge has challenged and transformed the traditional perspective of biodiversity into a comprehensive approach to science. Biodiversity conservation requires wholesome observation, and scientific analysis to document/inform implementation of policies aiming to improve and maintain genetic, species and ecosystem diversities. The planetary boundaries and the safe operating space in biodiversity management focus on the relationship between the resources, users (human) and their spheres of interaction (activities) and on the interdependence of resources, users and activities in biodiversity management practice. Therefore, the concept of planetary boundaries provides a platform for assessing the interaction and interdependence of biodiversity policies, processes and institutions to achieve coordinated, monitored and well-documented local biodiversity policies implementation.

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