Selecting Essential Biodiversity Variables and Essential Societal Variables for Mountains
MRI News
article written by MRI
28.05.20 | 07:05

The GEO-GNOME Workshop “Identifying Essential Biodiversity Variables (EBVs) and Essential Societal Variables (ESVs) in Mountain Environments” took place at the ETH Zürich, Switzerland on 20-21 February 2020. The workshop brought together experts from different networks and fields of mountain research to discuss and consider a list of essential variables needed to monitor and report on changes in mountain biodiversity and social-ecological systems.

Selecting Essential Variables for mountain environments is identified as one of the key activities of the Group on Earth Observations Global Network for Observations and Information in Mountain Environments (GEO GNOME) in its current implementation plan. Encouraged by the experiences and results of the GEO-GNOME workshop “Essential Climate Variables for Observations in Mountains”, a follow-up workshop was convened to expand the work from mountain climate related processes to mountain social-ecological systems and mountain biodiversity. This workshop aimed to identify and select processes that account for and improve understanding of key ecological and social-ecological changes in mountain systems and to identify EBVs and ESVs needed to monitor and report on these changes in biodiversity and society in mountains. The pre-existing GEO BON framework on Essential Biodiversity Variables (EBVs) and existing literature on Essential Societal Variables (ESVs) were identified as the initial basis for the mountain-specific selection.

The workshop was a great opportunity for MRI and GEO-GNOME to also connect with and convene relevant expertise from other networks at the workshop, with members from MIREN, GLORIA, GMBA, and GLP among the participants.

Mountain specific global change processes and Essential Variable frameworks

To set the context for the goals of the workshop, a series of invited talks provided an opportunity to reflect on processes specific for mountain environmental systems and on the concept of Essential Variables. In her invited talk, Sonja Wipf (Swiss National Park) presented the most important global change processes affecting mountain biodiversity, such as climate change (temperature, precipitation, snow), land use, natural disturbances, invasive species, and Nitrogen deposition, and the responses these drivers have in mountain biodiversity. In the GEO BON presentation by Walter Jetz (Yale University), the framework for Essential Biodiversity Variables was addressed, stressing the need to utilise the framework and data sets that are already available. The invited talk by Tuyeni Mwampamba (National Autonomous University of Mexico) highlighted the inherent diversity within mountain social-ecological systems and how the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) framework has been applied to build a system for the identification of relevant Essential Ecosystem Service Variables.

Candidate EBVs and ESVs for mountains

In a series of group exercises, the participants first nominated key ecological and societal processes that shape mountain biodiversity and mountain social-ecological systems and then continued to identify and rate the importance of the EBVs and ESVs required to observe and monitor to inform on these processes. As a result, a total of 15 candidate EBVs and 34 candidate ESVs for mountains were nominated, and for example “species composition” and “population density” were rated very important across the processes. 



Next steps

A peer-reviewed publication presenting the selection of candidate EBVs for mountain environments is under preparation to be submitted later this year. The GEO-GNOME work on mountain-specific essential variables will continue, and based on the outcomes of the discussions at the workshop, GEO-GNOME will start a process towards building an integrative framework around mountain-specific Essential Variables addressing Mountain Social-Ecological Systems with a specific workshop envisaged for 2021. More information on this event will be available at the MRI homepage later in 2020. Developing a mountain spatial layer that speaks to Mountain Social-Ecological Systems could add a visual and spatial element to the framework combining layers of social and ecological systems with other mountain-relevant data, with preparations to convene this work at a future workshop also planned for 2021.

Following the workshop, the discussion on Essential Mountain Variables continued at the World Biodiversity Forum (WBF) in Davos, at which GEO-GNOME convened Session 126S: “Selecting relevant essential variables for monitoring and understanding drivers and processes of change in mountain social-ecological systems”, inviting  additional experts and audience members to share their ideas and join the discussion.

Next, the preliminary results of the workshop together with the results from the GEO-GNOME ECV workshop will be presented to  a wider audience at the GEO Symposium in June 2020 and at the GEO BON Open Science Conference in July 2020, as well as at the GEO Week scheduled in November 2020. 

View and Download the Full Workshop Report

The workshop was led and coordinated by the GEO-GNOME co-leads Mountain Research Initiative (MRI) and the Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, National Research Council (ISAC-CNR) with support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the MRI. GEO-GNOME contributing organizations, including the Global Mountain Biodiversity Assessment (GMBA) and the US Geological Survey (USGS), contributed to the design and preparation of this workshop.

In other GEO-GNOME news

The new GEO-GNOME Project Officer Dr. James Thornton has started his work at the MRI Coordination Office in Bern! Learn more about James and his new role at the GEO-GNOME here.

Upcoming GEO-GNOME activities:

  • GEO Symposium | 16 – 18 June 2020
  • GEO BON Open Science Conference | 6 – 10 July 2020 (tbc)
  • GEO Week | Port Elizabeth, South America | 2 – 6 November 2020
  • GEO-GNOME Workshop on ESVs and human dimensions on change in mountain social-ecological systems | to be confirmed
  • GEO-GNOME Workshop on K4 – Ecosystem Services and social-ecological systems in mountains | to be confirmed

The Group on Earth Observations Global Network for Observations and Information in Mountain Environments (GEO GNOME) is co-led by the MRI and ISAC-CNR.