État de l'Arche: Information de haute qualité sur la biodiversité grâce aux centres de données sur la conservation

"Personne ne sait vraiment l'effet précis sur notre avenir qui sera causé par la présente vague d'extinctions d’espèces qui est de 100 à 1 000 fois plus grande que la moyenne historique de la vie sur la Terre." 

Rob Rainer, du Centre canadien de données sur la conservation affirme que la clé pour la préservation de la vie sur notre planète, "c'est un accès efficace à des renseignements objectifs, exacts et complets concernant le statut, la présence, la distribution et l'abondance des espèces et de leurs habitats." 

Il décrit également le travail du Centre canadien des données dur la conservation de l’Atlantique, du Réseau international des centres de données sur la conservation ainsi que celui de l’Association pour l’information sur la biodiversité.


































"at the core
of strategies
to preserve life on Earth is
the need for timely, efficient access to objective, comprehensive and accurate information on the status, presence, distribution and abundance of species and their habitats.




State of the Ark:
High Quality Biodiversity Information through Conservation Data Centres

Rob Rainer
Atlantic Conservation Data Centre
December 2000


onsider the Dwarf Wedge mussel, a small freshwater mollusc known in Canada only from the Petitcodiac River drainage in New Brunswick; last collected in the field in 1960, officially listed as extirpated by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), declared endangered in the United States, and now believed to be actually extinct in Canada. The Petitcodiac population was wiped out by the river’s causeway following its construction in the 1960s. The causeway largely eliminated the presence of Atlantic salmon in the river. Atlantic salmon, now also increasingly on the brink of extinction, was the host fish species which the parasitic larvae of the mussel required for its early development.

(photo: Claudia Hanel)
Showy Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium reginae),
an 'extremely rare' plant in New Brunswick

The Dwarf Wedge mussel appears to have joined the list of thousands of species that have been eradicated worldwide in the past century or two. No one really knows the precise effect on our future caused by the present wave of extinction that is some 100 to 1,000 times greater now than on average through the history of life on Earth. But the eradication or near extinction of specific species such as the Dwarf Wedge mussel and the decline of critical habitat in all major ecosystems, from coral reefs and estuaries to deserts and grasslands to tropical, temperate and boreal forests, should strike a chord of concern as sharp as that felt by passengers on a plane riding through a rough storm.

What can be done to conserve biological diversity? Action is needed on many fronts, but at the core of strategies to preserve life on Earth is the need for timely, efficient access to objective, comprehensive and accurate information on the status, presence, distribution and abundance of species and their habitats.

The western hemispheric network of conservation data centres (CDCs) is filling that very need. A conservation data centre, also known as a ‘‘natural heritage program’’, manages standardized information on rare and endangered species as well as natural ecological communities (assemblages of species that co-occur in defined areas at certain times and that have the potential to interact with one another.) A CDC provides information in response to general questions such as, ‘‘What animals, plants and ecological communities are rare?’’; ‘‘Where do they occur?’’; and ‘‘How are they faring?’’, and to more specific versions of the questions thereof. These are the kinds of questions fielded every day by individual centres, queries made in the context of land use planning, environmental impact assessment, protected areas system design, ecological research, and environmental education.

======  Monarch Butterfly =====
Monarch Butterfly graphic
(photo: Susan Johnston Carlson/TNC)

The international network of CDCs grew from just two centres in 1974 (Alabama and South Carolina) to about 90 programs today, stretching from Alaska and Hawaii to across Canada and the contiguous United States, and to parts of the Caribbean, Central and South America as far south as Paraguay. The methodology behind the centres was pioneered in the early 1970s by Dr. Robert Jenkins, then with The Nature Conservancy (TNC). Dr. Jenkins invented a means for systematically collating existing biodiversity data, collecting new data, and housing all of this information in computers and hard-copy files. The methodology has evolved considerably since then and relies heavily on the use of state-of-the-art computing technology including geographic information systems (software for managing and displaying spatial data). The methodology is shared by all CDCs which, collectively, employ more than 900 scientists, information managers and communication specialists in the cause of serving high quality biodiversity information to end users.

The Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Centre (AC CDC) is part of this dynamic information network. Formally incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1999, the AC CDC exists to assemble and provide information and expertise on species at risk and natural communities in Atlantic Canada, in support of decision-making, research and education. The AC CDC pursues this mission with the support of its nine founding partners (Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Parks Canada, the natural resource departments in each Atlantic province, Nature Conservancy of Canada and TNC) and the support of newer partners (e.g. Fisheries & Oceans Canada, J.D. Irving Ltd.) and numerous project-specific funding sources. Housed at Mount Allison University in Sackville, NB and governed by a Board of Directors, the centre currently employs two botanists, three zoologists, a terrestrial ecologist, a data manager and an executive director.

What is the status right now of the AC CDC’s biodiversity information holdings? In the centre’s many databases are provincial, national and global-level conservation status ranks assigned to flowering plant, moss, some invertebrate, freshwater fish, amphibian, reptile, bird and mammal species, for each of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, and Labrador. The development of these ranks is facilitated by CDC personnel and shaped by available data and expertise.

Another key dataset contains the ‘‘element occurrence’’ records, records pertaining to the location on the ground of the habitat of specific species of conservation concern. Some 15,000 of these records are presently in or shortly to be entered to the dataset, largely covering rare flowering plant and bird species but with growing coverage for invertebrate and other vertebrate species. These records have been assembled from dozens of disparate data sources, spanning the public and private sectors inside and outside Atlantic Canada, as well as from the AC CDC’s own field inventory projects in 1999 and 2000, largely focused on botanical investigations in the four provinces.

Exciting work for the centre in 2001 includes making initial progress on incorporating marine species and terrestrial vegetation community information in the databases, and constructing an Internet-accessible data system. This system will enable those with a need for the centre’s information to view or download the data (subject to data security provisions) from their desktops, with opportunity for data interpretation services from the AC CDC’s staff just a phone call or email message away.

In a recent essay published in the journal Conservation Biology, Edward O. Wilson, a leading international authority on biodiversity and its conservation, commented on the importance of conservation science, of developing ‘‘cross-cutting databases [that] open new avenues of useful analysis for the conservation biologist’’.

=====  Piping Plover ====

Piping Plover graphic
(photo: Susan Johnston Carlson/TNC)

‘‘For in order to care deeply about something important it is first necessary to know about it,’’ wrote Wilson, who went on to recommend that society ‘‘resume old-fashioned expeditions at a quickened pace, solicit money for permanent field stations, and expand the support of young scientists –– call them "naturalists" with pride –– who by inclination and the impress of early experience commit themselves to deep knowledge of particular groups of organisms……"

The Earth’s irreplaceable natural heritage deserves no less.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

For further information:

  • The International Network of Conservation
    Data Centres and the Association of
    Biodiversity Information http://www.abi.org