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Barometer of Life: Sampling

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Science  09 Jul 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5988, pp. 140
DOI: 10.1126/science.329.5988.140-a
CREDIT: ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

In their Policy Forum “The Barometer of Life” (9 April, p. 177), S. N. Stuart and coauthors report that 160,000 species are required to approach a meaningful indicator of the health of species. Assuming a linear projection, at the current rate of increase and level of investment, this goal will take until 2040. For the barometer to provide trend information (change in status), the 160,000 species assessments will have to be repeated on a regular basis, increasing the time frame for delivery. It is hoped that increased investment and commitment will help accelerate this process, but this will inevitably take many years; the health of the planet's species needs urgently to be better understood.

Conducting conservation assessments of a representative sample of a set of species (1) can produce robust, meaningful results in a shorter time frame [e.g., (2)], setting a baseline from which future change can be measured and indentifying a suite of species whose fate can be tracked over time. By the end of 2010, this new approach will reveal the status of all vertebrates, a large group of plants, and a number of invertebrate groups (3).

This technique has important advantages. (i) It enables rapid assessment of groups of species, even those that are comparatively poorly known. (ii) It will add groups of species to the barometer that are more important to ecosystem function (e.g., pollination, water filtration, carbon sequestration) than those that are currently assessed. By using the sampled approach and creating a barometer that is truly representative of biodiversity, we will better equip ourselves to make the right decisions about maintaining life on Earth.

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