Programme goal

To fill knowledge gaps to enable civil society and government to better manage ecosystems under global change. In objective terms, this would translate to:

  • Studying responses of biodiversity at all levels (genes to ecosystems) and scales (local to biomes) to global change
  • Informing and engaging with civil society (local communities to scientists) and government to incorporate best science and traditional knowledge in management of ecosystems
  • Recasting taxonomy and biosystematics as an integral part of conservation science

Background

The degradation of natural ecosystems is of particular concern for several reasons. Changes are rapid, and, when associated with loss of species or ecosystems, irreversible. The loss of natural ecosystems also results in loss of ecosystem services such as clean water from watersheds, retention of soil and soil fertility, sequestration of carbon and provision of pollinators and natural enemies of pests. Value of these ecosystems services often exceeds the annual gross domestic product of countries. In a country like India, millions of people rely on services and products from natural ecosystems to sustain their livelihoods. Our understanding of biodiversity in natural ecosystems in terms of patterns of occurrence, and their role and functions remain so woefully inadequate that we are unable to fully comprehend the consequences of its loss. With climate change, rapid penetration of markets, increasing urbanization, globalization and increasing spread of invasive species, biodiversity crisis is likely to get worse with far-reaching impacts on human societies. Therefore linking science with the effective management of complex tropical ecosystems is a critical necessity, although it is still in its infancy.

Accurately cataloging organisms using the science of taxonomy is fundamental to describing life on earth and to the conservation of biodiversity. There are many unknown species within the ecological communities that are still awaiting taxonomic scrutiny and whose functions and roles in ecosystems through coevolved plant–animal interactions are largely unknown.

There also are emerging threats to ecosystem functioning and biodiversity from climate change, invasive species and disease. We are only beginning to understand the dynamics of social–ecological systems that view human use and interventions, as in use of fire, as part of complex ecological dynamics over time and space, rather than as imposed constraints and conditions on static ecosystems. Finally, we are still largely ignorant about the synergies and feedbacks between bio-physical processes such as climate variability and human activities in shaping the dynamics and response of ecosystems and biodiversity over time and space. This programme will address these knowledge gaps using disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches, and work towards a more scientifically informed and socially just conservation. This large programme has several working groups that focus on smaller, cohesive areas such as Biosystematics and Conservation Genetics, Monitoring and Managing Ecosystem Change, and Urban Ecology.

Issues addressed

  • Ecosystems and landscapes and the biodiversity communities in them are undergoing change at local, regional and global scales
  • Drivers of change and emerging threats include climate change, deforestation, forest use, urbanization, spread of invasive species
  • There are feedbacks and links between human interventions and bio-physical processes
  • Ecosystem services framework cannot explicitly address all knowledge and conceptual gaps