Bridge over troubled waters: cooperation crucial to bridge the gap between freshwater science and policy
Cooperation and collaboration between biodiversity science and policy were the themes of day 4 of the BioFresh meeting.
The 4th day of the annual BioFresh meeting was dedicated to a training workshop for BioFresh scientists in the concepts and best practice of Science-Policy interfaces (SPIs). In the afternoon, we mobilised insights to plan out a freshwater biodiversity SPI symposium in early 2014.
There is a growing recognition by both scientists and policy makers of the importance of an improved dialogue across the two cultures and the need to better integrate important scientific findings into the relevant policy areas. Identifying and participating in SPIs, spaces where scientists and policy-makers are brought together either in person or in virtual spaces, will be essential in achieving these aims.
But there is also a growing acceptance that policy does not always occur in a linear fashion with science feeding straight into policy. Instead policy creation increasingly happens with and through a various array of networks. Dr. Paul Jepson, leader of the Conservation Governance Lab at the University of Oxford who leads on BioFresh dissemination comments ‘we can’t treat science as separate from the policy context in which it operates’. A much wider range of actors from NGOs, industry groups, journalists, academics and wider publics are involved which produces a messy policy process, but one that can be open for various forms of engagement .
Connecting with EU water and biodiversity projects
The day also saw several contributions by colleagues from sister EU FP7 projects join the BioFresh meeting and give talks. Dr. Carston Nesshoever from SPIRAL (Interfacing Biodiversity and Policy), an EU project working on biodiversity SPIs, described how they have mapped SPIs to help scientists navigate the complex policy landscape within which freshwater biodiversity science must interact. ‘Compiling and mapping the policy contacts of project consortium members is key to effective science-policy interfaces’, said Nesshoever.
Following this, Ulf Stein from WaterDiss argued for the need of a greater recognition of the importance and opportunities to link biodiversity science-policy communication with those of wider water science community. BioFresh will be at the WaterDiss stand at the Wasser International in Berlin next week.
Several BioFresh members are also involved in complementary projects. Dr. Eleftheria Kampa from BioFresh partner the Ecologic Institute in Berlin, for example, is also a member of REFORM, an EU river restoration project. Because REFORM looks at the pressures that exist for river ecosystems and BioFresh investigates how those pressures affect the life living in them, there is a lot of scope for cooperation between BioFresh and REFORM, Dr. Kampa argued.
The final guest speaker was Pavel Stoev from Pensoft Publishing and ViBrant, a project consortium supporting biodiversity research communities. Stoev reminded participants about the growing importance of data publishing for both science and policy, an issue directly relevant to the work of BioFresh (see our special feature). Stoev’s presentation prompted the idea of a freshwater biodiversity special edition of where we would publish data papers arising from BioFresh and the data compilation project funded from the BioFresh contingency fund.
Freshwater ‘science meets policy’ symposium
A theme that emerge from the day’s discussions was that coordination and partnership between European biodiversity and water projects is vital for effective policy impact. Horizontal networking between projects, coordinating and sharing resources when interfacing with policy, and passing scientific and policy products and assets on to future projects are areas where improvements can be made in this regard. This may require the development of new tools to map the landscape and identify networks of influence.
BioFresh is working to make these links. Another project with complementary aims as BioFresh is REFRESH, a project developing adaptive strategies to mitigate the impacts of climate change on freshwater ecosystems. An in principle agreement was made to team up with REFRESH to design and host a joint water and biodiversity symposium to bring not only scientists and policy-makers together, but also NGOs, industry representatives and politicians.
Dr. Martin Kernan from UCL, coordinator of REFRESH and a project member of BioFresh, says “the symposium is an exciting opportunity for REFRESH and BioFresh to work together to utilise combined networks and maximise resources to ensure the uptake of research, in line with the recommendations of the recently published Roadmap for Uptake of EU Water Research in Policy and Industry.”
The symposium is planned for late January 2014. Until then, the BioFresh blog will keep you updated and provide you with a more detailed plan in the coming months.
Day two of the annual BioFresh meeting again saw BioFresh’s information infrastructure at the forefront of discussions. This time, it was the BioFresh Global Freshwater Biodiversity Atlas that was the focus.
The Atlas allows stakeholders, policy-makers, scientists and the wider public to explore a wide range of maps about life in freshwater across the globe. It uses all available freshwater-related information and will be closely integrated to existing BioFresh information infrastructure such as the BioFresh data portal.
The Atlas is not only a collection of maps, but also a tool to increase the accessibility of scientific research into freshwater life. The Atlas is different from other online mapping tools because it allows you to navigate through it like you would a book. Users can leaf through the Atlas and explore what interests them and perhaps discover something unexpected. It is organised into different ‘chapters’, which cover past, present and future status of freshwater biodiversity, information about different ecosystems and where species live, current and future threats to freshwater biodiversity such as climate change, pollution or dams, and finally a chapter on what we can do about it.
The Atlas is currently in its final stages of development. Work is being done to create more features on the Atlas and make it an easy to use and interactive product. Such features will include pop-ups that will have information on map features, the ability to combine different aspects of maps together (e.g. climate change threats and key biodiversity areas), and interactive graphs and tables.
Another important development in the Atlas project has been the formation of an editorial board headed by two editors, Dr. Astrid Schmidt-Kloiber and Joerg Freyhof, who gave an interview about the Atlas recently. The editorial board of the BioFresh Atlas is actively searching for contributions of maps, articles and any other information relating to freshwater biodiversity. Dr. Schmidt-Kloiber says ‘it is a great way for scientists who contribute to increase the visibility and impact of their science and we invite scientists to publish their research on the Atlas.”
So who should use the Global Freshwater Biodiversity Atlas? It is really a resource for everyone, but three main types of users might find it useful. Firstly, the Atlas will be a huge resource for scientists. We are constantly flooded with information and scientists know this better than anyone. The Atlas helps because it provides an overview and visualisation of the freshwater-related science that has already been done. This enables the Atlas to be used as a platform for scientists to situate their own research, but also for providing inspiration for new ideas for future research projects.
Secondly, one of the most important uses of the Atlas will be for planners and policy-makers. It can be used by NGOs to identify key areas of freshwater biodiversity, policy-makers and governments to create Protected Area networks and meet conservation targets such as the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, as well as minimising harm caused by large-scale land use projects such as dams, and by corporations in their environmental impact assessments or land-use considerations.
Last, but by no means least, the Atlas will be great for anyone with an interest in freshwater, conservation, science or just good old-fashioned map enthusiasts. It opens up the world by getting science out of journals and presenting it in an easy to understand and open way. Making science accessible is a goal of the BioFresh project, and the Atlas should contribute to this aim enormously.
Our goal is to launch the Atlas later in the year. We’ll keep you informed and up-to-date in the meantime.
The 4th annual BioFresh meeting is just around the corner! The focus of this year’s meeting will be on the interface between science and policy and making freshwater biodiversity science more politically influential.
The fourth annual meeting of the BioFresh project will be held next week from April 15-19 in the trendy Germany city of Leipzig. The slogan of this year’s meeting is “BioFresh goes political”, which captures the focus of linking BioFresh science with policy and conservation outcomes. The meeting is a chance for members from our 19 partner organisations of the BioFresh team to get together and assess the progress of the previous 3 years and discuss plans for the final phase of the BioFresh project.
If you’re not familiar with the BioFresh project, you can check out this wonderful animation below explaining what it’s all about:
Alongside the important status updates and preparation for the future, a key feature of the meeting will be a workshop on understanding the science-policy interface and the implications for freshwater biodiversity research and funding. A full day of the week-long meeting will be dedicated to discussing the issues around making freshwater biodiversity science into policy, an indication the high priority BioFresh gives to linking the science of freshwater biodiversity with policy and conservation. This workshop should result in two main outcomes: one aim is to create a space where science and policy can come together to discuss current ways and methods of science-policy communication and its best practices, its challenges, and futures needs when engaging with policy makers and stakeholders. For this, BioFresh will profit from the experiences and inputs of several guests involved in other FP7 EU projects (KNEU, OpenNESS, REFORM, SPIRAL, ViBRANT, WaterDISS) related to freshwater, e-infrastructures, data mobilisation and publishing. Finally, BioFresh hopes to join forces with these EU projects to design a Science-Policy Symposium on freshwater biodiversity, to be held in the Spring of 2014 in Brussels.
With BioFresh entering its final project phase, all of us are also looking forward to what will be beyond BioFresh. What happens to the biodiversity infrastructures built up such as the BioFresh portal, the Metadatabase and the Global Freshwater Biodiversity Atlas? Will there be new initiatives? And where is and where should Europe be going in biodiversity research?
At team of Indian freshwater scientists have found a new species of freshwater fish in one of the most biodiverse regions of the world.
The new species, which was found in the Kunthi river in South-West India, is a type of stone loach fish and has been called the ’Balitora jalpalli’. It becomes the lucky 13th species of the Balitora genus, which live in the hill streams of South and South-East Asia, four of which can be found in India. The name ‘jalpalli’ is a combination of two Sanskrit words: ‘jal’ meaning water and ‘palli’ meaning ‘small lizard’ and it is named so because of its lizard-like appearance and its behaviour of clinging to rocks in fast-flowing waterways.
The tiny fish is just over 6cm in length and has a yellow-brown appearance. The researchers say that the new species can be distinguished from its cousins by the size of its head (length and width), unique patterns and the number of bands on its back, and differences in the narrow part of the fish’s body that connects to the tail fin – or for the fish biologists among us the caudal peduncle, a sexy name for a body part if ever there was one!
The Kunthi, where the Balitora jalpalli was found, is a tributary of Bharathapuzha River, India’s second-longest river. It runs through the Silent Valley National Park in southern Western Ghats, in the state of Kerala. The Western Ghats is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and in the top 10 ‘hottest biodiversity hotspots’ in the world. This latest find follows the discovery of another species of stone loach in the Western Ghats just last year and highlights the importance of the region as one of the world’s richest sources of biodiversity. The Western Ghats is home to over 5,000 species of flowering plants, over 500 bird species, 179 amphibian species, 139 species of mammals, over 100 freshwater fish species and now one more ! It is likely than many more species remain to found in this oasis of biodiversity.
The findings were published in the Journal of Threatened Taxa.
World Water Day is an opportunity to think about the importance of water and to reflect on what water really is. Water is not only an instrumental resource to meet the needs of humanity, but it is also a medium for life itself.
All life on Earth depends on water for its survival. Civilisations have risen and fallen around the question of water. Without water life as we know it would simply not exist. But water is not just an inert substance that sustains life. It is alive with an abundance of life itself.
Freshwater habitats cover just 1% of the Earth’s surface, but hold over 10% of all life on the planet and 35% of all vertebrates. Yet despite this, no component of global biodiversity is declining faster than freshwater ecosystems.
With 2013 marking the ‘International Year of Water Co-operation’, it is the perfect time to work together to meet the many pressing and interconnected issues relating to water. If the needs of people and freshwater ecosystems (and the services they bring) are to be met, freshwater ecologists, economists and policy-makers must all work together. The nexus between food security, water and biodiversity, is just one of many examples of the need for water co-operation.
Given the interrelated and multiple roles that water plays on Earth, BioFresh member Dr. Paul Jepson from the University of Oxford asks whether “water policy should, therefore, also consider the diversity of life that inhabits freshwater ecosystems before it is harnessed, filtered and transformed into the inert substance used by humanity. The crucial question is how do we understand the relationship between water as an instrumental resource and water as the basis of dynamic, diverse and living ecosystems?”
Today provides an opportunity to step back and reflect on the nature of water. UN Secretary-General stated today that “water holds the key to sustainable development, we must work together to protect and carefully manage this fragile, finite resource.” No-one would argue with that. But water is much more the simply a natural resource.
Look beneath the surface of this vital resource and it is transformed into another world filled with strange and fascinating creatures. Our lakes and rivers support an amazing diversity of life, from tiny diatoms all the way to us humans. These beautiful, complex webs of freshwater life often go unseen, and their importance un-noticed. However, this remarkable diversity of freshwater life is vital in supporting our everyday lives. Are we capable of creating policies to manage water not only as a resource for humanity, but also as a medium for life?
For more see the article ‘Going with the flow‘ by Dr. Paul Jepson and Rob St John.