Confronting biodiversity data’s inequities

January 10, 2024
A photo of a person kneeling down in nature, logging a plant observation using a smartphone.

A person makes an observation using a smartphone.

Ecologists and conservationists have long accepted that biodiversity data is heavily influenced by social inequities like redlining and environmental racism. Those legacies shape how habitat distribution, urban tree cover, and other elements of biodiversity are reported in large-scale data sources like the Global Biodiversity Information Facility. 

As decision makers continue to draw on this data to shape conservation policy, researchers are concerned that new programs and investments could further perpetuate those disparities.

A new Policy Forum piece published in Science calls attention to this issue and questions how past, present, and future biodiversity data can better align with global equity goals. The commentary was led by Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM) alum Millie Chapman, PhD ’23, with co-authors including ESPM professors Justin Brashares, Carl Boettiger, Dara O’Rourke, and Christopher Schell; ESPM alum Benjamin Goldstein, PhD ’23; and recent Ciriacy-Wantrup Postdoctoral Fellow Hilary Faxon.

Because biodiversity data currently guides the implementation of multilateral commitments and global investments that will affect nature and people for decades to come, the authors call for a deeper understanding of the ways in which data biases propagate through decision-making.

“The path forward will require more than technocratic fixes. Interdisciplinary collaboration and inclusive, bottom-up processes will be critical for leveraging past, present, and future biodiversity data in a way that aligns with the equity goals of global biodiversity policy,” they write.

Read the full commentary on the Science website.