Originally published Dec 21, 2022 in Google Earth and Earth Engine
Editor’s note: Today’s post was co-authored by Tamara Rudic, Communications Specialist; Alex Killion, Managing Director; and Walter Jetz, Director, Yale Center for Biodiversity and Global Change
We are running out of time to conserve the world’s biodiversity — but the gig is not up yet. Ambitious conservation targets set forth by the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), signed earlier this week in Montreal, have instilled hope around the world as countries, organizations, and researchers unite to put biodiversity on the global agenda. With the GBF goals now in place, there is an urgent need to support local communities, governments, and businesses in their progress toward achieving the framework’s ambition.
To this end, as part of the GBF, countries also formally adopted three indicators provided by Map of Life as means to deliver critical measurements and decision-support: the Species Habitat Index (SHI), the Species Protection Index (SPI), and the Species Information Index (SII). These metrics and associated maps were developed in close collaboration with the GEO Biodiversity Observation Network (BON) and the Half-Earth Project and in partnership with Google, Esri, NASA, National Science Foundation, National Geographic, and others. Powered by the data storage, computational, and mapping capabilities of the Google Cloud Platform, Google Earth Engine, and Esri, the indicators provide robust measures of progress towards achieving biodiversity conservation targets at the level of species.
Indicators of Biodiversity Habitat, Protection, and Knowledge
Combining a range of biodiversity observations, remote sensing, and models, the indicators address key questions for each of tens of thousands of species and for each year starting in 2001:
Measurement: how much habitat area and connectivity has the species lost, or gained through restoration, and what are the implications for population size, genetic diversity, and contributions to ecosystem integrity?
Decision-support: Where has the species been gaining or losing the most ground? This indicator supports GBF Goal A and Target 4 which stipulate improved ecosystem integrity, species population abundance, and genetic diversity.
Measurement: is the species adequately represented and thus sufficiently safeguarded in existing or new conservation areas?
Decision-support: Where are the most valuable opportunities for additional protection? This indicator supports GBF Target 3 (’30 by 30’) on increased conservation of ecologically representative areas important for biodiversity.
Measurement: how good is the information about the species status?
Decision-support: where would additional data most effectively fill knowledge gaps? This indicator supports Target 21 which calls for improved biodiversity knowledge.
Synergies among the three biodiversity indicators. Source: Yale Center for Biodiversity and Global Change; top right photo: Peter Prokosch, grida.no/resources/3268.
The species-level scores are developed using remotely sensed environmental layers, species occurrences, trait data, and models, and change is assessed annually. Thanks to the powerful capacity of Google Earth Engine, the Google Cloud Platform, and Esri’s spatial analytics platform, we’re able to scale up these workflows to tens of thousands of species around the globe, for millions of individual calculations to date. The Species Habitat and Protection Scores are computed for each of several thousand species individually using a Google Earth Engine workflow, and the Species Habitat Index is aggregated using Google BigQuery.
The species protection score, part of the SPI, for the Rufous-Capped Thornbill. A score of 100 would indicate adequate protection. Source: Map of Life and Yale Center for Biodiversity and Global Change, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0; Rufous-Capped Thornbill photo: Nick Athanas via Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
From single species to national metrics
Aggregating scores of all species for the country they inhabit provides the national indicator value. At Map of Life, we’ve precalculated national metrics for nearly all countries around the world. For each of the three indices, a species is assessed individually, and we map the exact pixels contributing toward national trends. This is the power of the indicators: they simultaneously provide national metrics for tracking progress and provide locally specific, actionable information.
Coverage of a large number of species, thousands for some countries, ensures that national metrics are maximally representative of the state of biodiversity. On the Map of Life site, users can explore these metrics for their country and view the complete species information supporting a robust, cross-scale analysis of biodiversity conservation.
Screenshot from the Map View of the Species Habitat Index on Map of Life. Source: mol.org/indicators/habitat/regions/2019.
The same workflow we use to calculate national indices can be applied to other geographic units, such as states, provinces, or protected areas, to develop regional indices. This provides an ready-to-use tool for conservation managers to prioritize limited resources for addressing habitat loss and restoration, protected area planning, and data collection. On the partnered Half-Earth Project Map, users can, for example, view full National Report Cards for the SPI and get reports on specific landscapes with the new Area of Interest tool.
The cross-scale capacity of the biodiversity indicators, from aggregated national metrics to 1-kilometer pixels. Source: Yale Center for Biodiversity and Global Change, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0; Rufous-necked foliage-gleaner: Nick Athanas via Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0; Yellow-tailed wooly monkey Nick Athanas via Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0; Pleasing Poison Frog.
Map of Life with its partners GEO BON and Half-Earth Project will continue to provide annual updates to the indicators and increase taxonomic representation to assist decision-makers across scales in their efforts to meet the GBF Post-2020 goals and targets. We are at an absolutely crucial turning point for nature — one that requires us to strive for and reach the full suite of key challenges laid out by the GBF: equitable distribution of conservation resources, sustainable land management practices, integration of nature values at all policy levels, and, of course, effective, data-driven conservation of biodiversity.
Our indicators are a tool to help us all meet this last challenge: to protect and enhance the integrity of species populations and habitats. To protect the biodiversity of our world.