What species and ecosystems are most likely to be adversely affected by climate change, and why? What are the impacts of international trade on fisheries and marine biodiversity loss? How should urban development be handled so that its impacts on biodiversity are minimized?
What research questions, if answered, could substantially help sustainable development and biodiversity conservation in Southeast Asia?
That’s what more than 50 scientists, including two scientists from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Syed Ajijur Rahman and James Reed, set out to learn back in 2017. They focused on the Southeast Asia region due to its high levels of biodiversity and endemism – and high level of threat to the survival of its native species.
Their efforts culminated in a paper titled “Top 100 Research Questions for Biodiversity Conservation in Southeast Asia,” published in the journal Elsevier in April.
The ultimate objective of this exercise, say Rahman and Reed, was, “to identify common priorities for research and suggest how to make said research practical and policy-relevant.”
In the end, 64 experts responded with the most pressing questions in their respective fields. The authors received a total of 333 questions through three rounds of elicitation, ranked the questions by vote, chose the top 100 and grouped them into 13 themes.
These 100 questions depict Southeast Asia as a region where strong pressures on biodiversity interact in complex and poorly understood ways, say the authors. They point to a lack of information about multiple facets of the environment, while exposing the many threats to biodiversity and human wellbeing.
The themes that emerged indicate the need to evaluate specific drivers of biodiversity loss (wildlife harvesting, agricultural expansion, climate change, infrastructure development, pollution) and to identify which species and habitats are most at risk. They also suggest the need to study the effectiveness of practice-based solutions, such as protected areas and ecological restoration; as well as the human dimension, including social interventions, organizational systems and processes, and the impacts of biodiversity loss and conservation interventions on people.
Finally, they highlight gaps in fundamental knowledge of ecosystem function. These 100 questions, the authors say, should help prioritize and coordinate research, conservation, education and outreach activities and the distribution of scarce conservation resources in Southeast Asia.
“The basic nature of several of our top 100 questions (and of others in the total pool) seems symptomatic of an insidious problem,” say Rahman and Reed. “There is less conservation-relevant research being done (and published) in Southeast Asia than in many other regions – the result of insufficient funding and capacity, especially in the lowest-income countries. Therefore, we hope this paper will stimulate the development of useful studies to engage a generation of Southeast Asian researchers, whose work will meaningfully advance the urgently-needed conservation of Southeast Asia’s biodiversity. A better landscape design and its long-term effective management should be based on the understanding of local level land-use drivers, community motivation and participation with appropriate supportive policies.
“We hope (our paper) provides useful suggestions on how to bridge the research-implementation gap, so that research outcomes can be communicated to decision-makers, operationalized and translated into action,” the authors conclude.