Getting people working on ecosystem functions connected

There’s news for people working on ecosystem functions and their monitoring: the Ecosystem Function Working Group has been recently launched by the Group on Earth Observations Biodiversity Observation Network (GEO BON), and the group is looking for its members.

You may wonder what GEO BON is: GEO BON is an international networking platform part of GEO, the Group on Earth Observations. Within the GEO family, GEO BON represents biodiversity, which is one of GEO’s nine Societal-Benefit-Areas. GEO BON’s mission is to improve the acquisition, coordination and delivery of biodiversity observations and related services to users including decision makers and the scientific community. Its secretariat is hosted by iDiv in Leipzig and supported by the German Science Foundation.

The new working group within GEO BON hopes to research, identify and derive Essential Biodiversity Variables (EBVs) related to ecosystem functions; the group will also work towards highlighting those ecosystem function EBVs relevant to the generation of global biodiversity indicators.

But what are EBVs? The concept of EBVs was originally developed at the request of the Convention on Biological Diversity, following a workshop in 2011. Following multiple discussions across varied groups of stakeholders, EBVs were originally defined as measurements required for studying, reporting and managing biodiversity change. Six classes of EBVs were distinguished: genetic composition, species populations, species traits, community composition, ecosystem structure and ecosystem functions.


EBVs are expected to possess a set of characteristics, which include (1) sensitivity to change over time; (2) a focus on ‘state’ variables (as per the ‘Pressure State Response’ framework routinely used by the Convention on Biological Diversity); and (3) generally falling between low-level (primary) observations and high-level indicators of biodiversity change. Other important characteristics included scalability, technical and economic feasibility for global implementation and usefulness for informing progress toward the Convention on Biological Diversity targets.

The most recently agreed definition of EBV reads as follow: “An EBV is a variable or a group of linked variables that allows quantification of the rate and direction of change in one aspect of the state of biodiversity over time and across space. An EBV is critical for understanding and predicting changes in the most integrated and established global indicators of biodiversity. The following requirements should be fulfilled: EBVs are sensitive to changes; observing or deriving EBVs on a global scale is technically feasible using standardised, proven methods; generating and archiving EBV data is also affordable, mainly relying on coordinated observing systems using proven technologies, taking advantage, where possible, of historical datasets.”

Working groups (such as the newly launched Ecosystem Function Working Group) are expected to deliver on four fronts over the coming three years: specifically, this new working group is expected to (1) identify research opportunities (relevant in this case to ecosystem functions) supporting the identification/implementation of EBVs; (2) derive/identify potential datasets; (3) articulate the links between these EBVs and global indicators; and (4) provide guidance to national biodiversity networks in terms of in situ monitoring of these EBVs (through, for example, the production of reports/guidelines).

Admittedly, the creation of the working group doesn’t come with funding to support the work that needs to be done. However, group members can obtain GEO BON support letters for funding applications directly related to the working group aims. Ultimately, the working group represents a networking platform, and so the main benefits to members are knowledge transfer, the potential access to new collaborations, and access to a clear pathway for the generated science to inform global policy and conservation.

So, are you working on ecosystem functions and interested to join? Have some questions? Then just drop me an email (! And please do feel free to pass on this information to anyone you think might be interested.

Nathalie Pettorelli

Choosing the appropriate analytical resolution for protected area planning

Blog post by Moreno Di Marco, Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia.

Based on: Di Marco, M., Watson, J.E.M., Possingham, H.P. & Venter, O. (2016). Limitations and trade-offs in the use of species distribution maps for protected area planning. J. Appl. Ecol. doi 10.1111/1365-2664.12771.

From local-scale management to global scale policy, conservation decisions are influenced by the knowledge of where species are distributed. Maps of the geographic range of species (or simply ‘range maps’) are typically used to determine the overlap between threatened species and protected areas, and to find new places in need of protection.

The Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature is  the most comprehensive source of species range maps globally, often used for analyses of protected area coverage and planning. At the same time, it is widely recognised that IUCN range maps suffer from commission errors, where species are supposed to be present in locations where they are actually absent, and omission errors, which is the opposite case.

Commission errors are particularly worrisome in conservation applications for two reasons: first, they can lead to a false perception of species protection, hence to an overestimation of the actual protection level; second, they can drive conservation investment toward areas of little conservation value, where species are not present.


The effect of commission errors can be reduced by removing from a range map those habitats which are considered unsuitable for the species, using habitat models. However, habitat models are data demanding and their use is not always possible, especially for analyses focused on many species. Therefore the adoption of a coarse analytical resolution has been suggested as a valuable alternative. In this case, species’ distributions are represented using coarse grids (100-200 km), thus minimising the probability of including unoccupied grid cells.

However, aside from reducing the effect of commission errors, the adoption of a coarse resolution also affects the efficiency of a conservation plan, i.e. the ability to select a minimal additional area to be protected for achieving an adequate representation of all species. We demonstrated these contrasting effects by performing a set of protected area planning analyses for the world’s threatened terrestrial mammals at various resolutions. We compared species range maps with habitat models to show the difference between protected species ranges and protected habitats.

We found that planning for new protected areas using range maps results in a small overestimation of species protection, where the proportion of protected species range is higher than the proportion of protected suitable habitat. The adoption of a coarse analytical resolution can slightly mitigate this effect.

When employing a resolution of 10 km, a global protected area expansion of 3 million km2 (an area almost the size of India) would suffice to achieve adequate protection for all the 1,115 species in our analyses, if looking at their IUCN ranges. However, a shortfall of 28 species emerges if looking at the protected suitable habitat within those ranges. At a resolution of 200 km, the shortfall for an equal figure of protected area expansion would be just 7 species. At this coarse resolution it was also twice as likely (80% vs 40% at a 10 km resolution) that the priority grids for the protection of species ranges were also considered a priority for protecting species suitable habitats. However the adoption of a 200 km resolution lead to the selection of a total of 12 million km2 of protected area in order to achieve adequate coverage for all species, which is four times larger than the area selected under a 10 km resolution.

In conclusion, our findings demonstrate that adopting coarse resolutions in protected area planning results in unsustainable increases in costs, with limited reduction in the effect of commission errors in IUCN range maps. We recommend that, if some level of uncertainty is acceptable to managers, using range maps at resolutions of 20–30 km is the best compromise for reducing the effect of commission errors while maintaining cost-efficiency in protected area planning analyses.

Peer Review Week: Should we use double blind peer review? The evidence…

This week is Peer Review Week, the slightly more popular academic celebration than pier review week. Peer review is an essential part of scientific publication and is – like Churchill’s…

Source: Peer Review Week: Should we use double blind peer review? The evidence…

What do reviewers want?

Animal Ecology In Focus

Last year’s Peer Review Week proved to be a great success in raising awareness and starting discussions about peer review. This year, it’s back and the focus is on recognition for review.

There have been lots of surveys looking at perceptions of peer review. These surveys agree that peer review is valued and authors feel that the quality of their paper improves as a result. Nature’s annual author survey shows that after the reputation of the journal and relevance to the discipline, the quality of peer review was the third most important factor driving author’s choice of where to submit their article.

For Peer Review Week 2016, I thought I’d take another look at these surveys to see what they tell us about recognition for reviewing activity. I’m concentrating on three big surveys that were carried out in 2015 by Wiley, Taylor and Francis (T&F), and the Publishing…

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Next-Gen Peer Review: Solving Today’s Problems with Tomorrow’s Solutions

Post provided by Jess Metcalf and Sean McMahon The primary challenge Associate Editors face is finding Reviewers for manuscripts. When times get desperate, it may feel like anyone with a pulse will…

Source: Next-Gen Peer Review: Solving Today’s Problems with Tomorrow’s Solutions

What is the future of peer review in ecology?

Peer review is critical to the research process, but is also the subject of much criticism and debate. Review bias, reviewer recognition and the discovery of peer review rings are recent examples of topics widely discussed by the scientific community. Many peer review models and experiments have emerged across scientific disciplines with the aim of improving the review process, often leading to more questions than answers.


At the British Ecological Society Annual Meeting, (Liverpool, 11-14 December) we will be holding a panel debate on the future of peer review in ecology where these issues will be discussed by a panel of experts. The workshop will take the form of a BBC Question Time style debate following on from the success of ‘The Future of Data Archiving panel discussion held at last year’s Annual Meeting. This year we have a great panel of experts, covering a range of perspectives on peer review, including:

  • Jane Hill (Chair), Professor of Ecology at the University of York, Chair of BES Publications Committee
  • Rob Freckleton, Professor of Population Biology at the University of Sheffield, Executive Editor Methods in Ecology & Evolution
  • Allen Moore, Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Georgia, Editor-in-Chief Ecology and Evolution
  • Patricia Morse, Managing Editor American Naturalist
  • Verity Warne, Associate Marketing Director, Author Marketing at Wiley

Jane Hill studies the impacts of climate change and habitat loss on biodiversity, focusing particularly on temperate and tropical insects. Jane is a member of BES Council and Chair of BES Publications Committee. On the future of peer review, Jane said:

“Researchers are judged by the papers they publish – the so called ‘publish or perish’ ethos. The traditional concept of peer-reviewed publications is that submitted manuscripts are reviewed by anonymous and independent expert reviewers (usually for free) and Journal Editors make decisions on whether to accept or reject papers based on these reviews. But there are criticisms of this approach and whether or not the review process is fair – perhaps there are better ways? For example, double-blind peer review to avoid potential biases due to e.g. gender or race of authors. Also, in a world of ever increasing numbers of journals and submitted papers, there are concerns that the peer review system will not be able to stand the strain.”

Rob Freckleton has a research focus on modelling population and community dynamics, and testing these using observational and comparative data. Rob is the founding Editor of single-blind journal, Methods in Ecology & Evolution, and before that Rob was a Senior Editor for Journal of Applied Ecology. On the future of peer review, Rob said:

 “Peer review is essential to ensure that we have quality control for published research. However, the year-on-year increase in the amount of work published, along with increasing author expectations of speed of publication, mean that the peer review system is under pressure. Our challenge is to ensure that peer review is fair, effective and uses the available resources (i.e. the time and energy of reviewers and editors) most efficiently.”

Allen Moore has a research focus on evolutionary genetics of behaviour. He has researched the quantitative and molecular genetic influences on social dominance, mating, and parental care. He is the founding Editor-in-Chief of Ecology and Evolution, published by Wiley, is the former Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Evolutionary Biology, and has served on the editorial boards of the American Naturalist, Animal Behaviour, and Oxford Bibliographies in Evolutionary Biology. Ecology and Evolution is supported by other journals published by Wiley, which offer authors the option to refer rejected articles of suitable quality, with any peer review reports to Ecology and Evolution. On founding Ecology and Evolution, Allen said:

 “I started Ecology and Evolution for several reasons. First, it is clear that there is a need for field-specific open access journals. However, I also strongly believe that professional societies have an important role and I wanted an OA journal that worked with and supported the goals of societies. Second, as an author myself, I knew we needed an “author friendly” journal where decisions were driven by the needs and concerns of authors, not editors or reviewers. Thus, we look for reasons to publish rather than to reject. We don’t have page limits. We encourage people to address differences of opinion (often with reviewers) directly in the manuscript.”

Patricia Morse has been the Managing Editor of the American Naturalist since 2001. Before that she worked for a “pure” double-blind journal, the American Journal of Sociology. Patricia has a PhD in literature and literary historiography from the University of Chicago and has taught writing and American literature before joining the University of Chicago Press. On the future of peer review, Patricia said:

 “I believe that the future of peer review will be the current landscape of a wide variety of peer review types serving a wide variety of manuscripts. There will still be a place in the landscape for pre-publication peer review at journals such as the American Naturalist, where peer review is expected not just to evaluate fit with the journal’s mission but also to provide a service to the community by giving feedback on all submissions and also to push papers that fit the mission to be as robust as possible. The Naturalist’s modified double-blind review – where the system is redacted, the authors may determine to what extent they redact their own papers, and the authors may opt out altogether – is designed to minimize implicit bias, which unfortunately will continue to be a need in the foreseeable future. It depends on pre-publication review. However, the expansion of double-blind review is limited by the willingness to invest the time and resources required to monitor the process and to provide services like conflict-of-interest checks that reviewers can no longer provide for themselves.”

Verity Warne is Associate Marketing Director, Author Marketing, at Wiley, where she is responsible for defining and implementing a program of reviewer services in order to engage reviewers and recognize their contribution. Verity was one of the founders of Peer Review Week in 2015 and is a member of the planning committee for Peer Review Week

So, if you would like to to discuss the issues surrounding peer review with our panel of experts come along and add your voice to the debate. Questions are welcomed on the day and in advance through Twitter using the hashtag #BESpeerreview or by email to For those, who can’t make it, output from the session will be available on the BES website in early 2017.

Simon Hoggart and Alice Plane, BES Publications Team.

What Makes a Good Peer Review: Peer Review Week 2016

For many academics, especially Early Career Researchers, writing a review can seem like quite a daunting task. Direct training is often hard to come by and not all senior academics have the time to…

Source: What Makes a Good Peer Review: Peer Review Week 2016