Proposed species extinction target fails to capture the diversity in biodiversity

By: , and 



We believe the 20 species extinction metric is a retrograde proposal, which does not adequately consider the lessons learnt from the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets. Whilst having a single simple overarching target is appealing, we believe a positively-framed target will garner support, rather than one that aims to, at best, limit negative impacts. The Convention on Biological Diversity’s zero draft states that future targets should be clear, consistent and SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely). Extinction is problematic as a standalone target: it can take decades to demonstrate and therefore cannot be measured over a relevant time-period, and is biased towards terrestrial vertebrates. The proposal is not scalable across nations, nor is it equitable,one of the key aspirations of the zero draft. Many industrialised countries are unlikely to find the targets challenging because their most vulnerable species have largely gone extinct; tropical species-rich countries, where much biodiversity is yet to be catalogued, will find the targets demanding and unachievable in the short- or medium-term. Despite the authors’ statement to the contrary, species extinction is not necessarily relevant to other aspects of biodiversity, such as ecosystems or genetic diversity. A species may be reduced to a small fraction of its former extent without going extinct. However, its ecosystem will be altered, and its contribution to ecosystem functions and the socio-economic benefits it provided will be lost. The focus on extinction is not novel and has not been particularly successful to date, as demonstrated by the decline of emblematic species such as rhinoceroses. Alternatively, composite indicators can be used to capture biodiversity’s three fundamental components (ecosystems, species and genetic diversity). In conclusion, we cannot support a target that fails to represent the diversity in biodiversity and, in the authors’ words, could be met despite “wholesale and damaging changes to life on Earth.”
Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Proposed species extinction target fails to capture the diversity in biodiversity
Series title Science
DOI 10.1126/science.aba6592
Volume 368
Issue 6496
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher AAAS
Contributing office(s) Wetland and Aquatic Research Center
Description 3 p.
First page 1193
Last page 1195
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