From Science Magazine:
Biodiversity is a composite term used to embrace the variety of types, forms, spatial arrangements, processes, and interactions of biological systems at all scales and levels of organization, from genes to species and ecosystems, along with the evolutionary history that led to their existence. In part because of this complexity, universally applicable measures of biodiversity have proven elusive. Commonly used measures, such as the number of species present, are strongly scale-dependent and only reveal a change after species have been lost. Indices incorporating several proxy signals are potentially sensitive, but their arbitrariness obscures underlying trends and mechanisms. Integrated measures are both sensitive and achievable, but more research is needed to construct the globally robust relations between population data, genetic variation, and ecosystem condition that they require.The paper goes on to reiterate the need for national to global-scale biodiversity measurements. This need was highlighted by the adoption of a target to "reduce the rate of loss of biodiversity by 2010" by the 190 countries that are parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
There is no widely accepted and globally available set of measures to assess biodiversity. Consequently, the community has fallen back on a range of existing data sets gathered for other purposes. Currently, in the CBD process alone, there are ~40 measures reflecting 22 headline indicators in seven focal areas... There is no general shortage of biodiversity data, although it is uneven in its spatial, temporal, and topical coverage. The problem lies in the diversity of the data and the fact that it is physically dispersed and unorganized.The paper states that the solution to this problem is to organise the information currently available and to create systems whereby data of different kinds, from many sources, can be combined. The authors then go on to propose a new network, the Group on Earth Observations Biodiversity Observation Network (GEOBON) designed to help collect, manage, analyse, and report data relating to the status of the world's biodiversity. The new network would be based on the Global Earth Observation (GEO) platform.
The Group on Earth Observations (GEO) was launched in 2002 in response to the widely identified need for adequate information to support environmental decision-making. GEO is a voluntary partnership of 73 national governments and 46 participating organizations. It provides a framework within which these partners can coordinate their strategies and investments for Earth observation. The GEO members are establishing a Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) that provides access to data, services, analytical tools, and modeling capabilities through a Web-based GEO Portal.GEOBON aims to create a global network from multilateral collaborative efforts in the realm of biodiversity by linking and supporting individual efforts within an overarching scientific framework. It is proposed that GEOBON will allow the combination of top-down measures of ecosystem integrity from satellite observations (for example) with bottom-up measures of ecosystem processes, population trends of key organisms and genetic measures of biodiversity from field-based and molecular survey methods. The proposed role of GEOBON will be to guide data collection, standardisation, and information exchange. All participating organizations will retain their mandates and data ownership, but agree to collaborate in making part of their information accessible to others.
Scholes RJ, Mace GM, Turner W, Geller GN, Jürgens N, Larigauderie A, Muchoney D, Walther BA, Mooney HA (2008) Toward a Global Biodiversity Observing System. Science 321(5892) 1044-1045.