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Databases, Scaling Practices, and the Globalization of Biodiversity

Esther Turnhout, Forest and Nature Conservation Policy Group, Wageningen University, The Netherlands
Susan Boonman-Berson, Forest and Nature Conservation Policy Group, Wageningen University, The Netherlands

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Abstract

Since the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1992, biodiversity has become an important topic for scientific research. Much of this research is focused on measuring and mapping the current state of biodiversity, in terms of which species are present at which places and in which abundance, and making extrapolations and future projections, that is, determining the trends. Biodiversity databases are crucial components of these activities because they store information about biodiversity and make it digitally available. Useful biodiversity databases require data that are reliable, standardized, and fit for up-scaling. This paper uses material from the EBONE-project (European Biodiversity Observation Network) to illustrate how biodiversity databases are constructed, how data are negotiated and scaled, and how biodiversity is globalized. The findings show a continuous interplay between scientific ideals related to objectivity and pragmatic considerations related to feasibility and data availability. Statistics was a crucial feature of the discussions. It also proved to be the main device in up-scaling the data. The material presented shows that biodiversity is approached in an abstract, quantitative, and technical way, disconnected from the species and habitats that make up biodiversity and the people involved in collecting the data. Globalizing biodiversity involves decontextualization and standardization. This paper argues that while this is important if the results of projects like EBONE are to be usable in different contexts, there is a risk involved as it may lead to the alienation from the organizations and volunteers who collect the data upon which these projects rely.

Key words

biodiversity; classification; databases; scaling practices; standards; statistics; volunteer recorders
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087