European travels

Bye bye Aussie summer ... Hello Helsinki
Bye bye Aussie summer … Hello Helsinki

I recently embarked on a four week-long tour of six European countries, full of workshops, talks and collaborations. The trip started with a Red List of Ecosystems (RLE) Committee for Scientific Standards meeting, where 25 experts on ecosystems, risk assessment and remote sensing discussed the challenges and solutions for the application of the RLE criteria. Over three days, we covered topics ranging from building a global ecosystem typology, identifying new datasets for RLE assessments, to refurbishing the IUCN Threats classification. I believe we made a lot of progress, and the RLE Guidelines are set to be published by mid-2015! During our week in Helsinki we also had a one day workshop on red listing Finnish ecosystems (we learnt a lot about mires), and a further workshop on setting up an Arctic/Boreal thematic group. Having never attended a thematic group meeting before, it was extremely interesting to witness the different steps involved in setting up working plans and large-scale assessments. The IUCN CEM members were very enthusiastic and proactive, so we will hopefully be able to add Arctic/Boreal ecosystems to our increasing list of assessments.

IUCN Red List of Ecosystems Committee for Scientific Standards - blinded by the Nordic sun
IUCN Red List of Ecosystems Committee for Scientific Standards – blinded by the Nordic sun

After a brief week end in Stockholm I visited the Max Planck Institute for Biodemography in Odense, Denmark. The group is mostly formed of human demographers, and I had the pleasure to attend the lab’s morning presentations. Knowing very little about human demography, I was surprised by the abundance of data on human mortality and causes of death (something biologists can only dream of!), and the complexity of human demography models. The graphs reminded me of paleontological reconstruction graphs, which almost require an entire degree to get to grips with. We then got to work on DISKo (Demographic Index of Species Knowledge), and index which quantifies the amount of demographic information for the world’s vertebrates.

Next stop was Switzerland, with a visit to IUCN Headquarters in Gland. I had not set foot in IUCN since 2009, when I completed a summer internship in the Species Programme. I met with a few staff members and explored the relationship between RLE and IUCN programmes, such as Conservation Economics, Global Policy and Climate Change Adaptation. Given that I haven’t focused much on the applications of RLE, it was great to learn more about the intended uses for the ecosystem assessments. I also gave a talk on the scientific foundations of RLE – focusing on how to define ecosystem collapse. During question time we discussed the relationship between RLE and the Red List of Threatened Species, and how these two products can complement each other – something we are all very excited about.

201503_IUCN

Final stop was England. I gave a talk at University College London and a talk at UNEP-WCMC in Cambridge. I received a lot of interesting feedback and spiny questions – How does the RLE treat urban and modified areas? Does the RLE reflect a perception of nature without people? How will the RLE link with ecosystem services and climate adaptation? The questions asked in the two environments differed drastically – from science to applied conservation policy – and stretched me at times. Working at the science-policy interface has its challenges, as it can be difficult to satisfy queries from both spheres simultaneously. Overall, giving these talks enabled me to consider the project from different angles, and take into account the future uses of RLE into my current work.

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