Correspondence | Published:

Biodiversity definitions vary within the discipline

Naturevolume 444page146 (2006) | Download Citation



R. M. Ewers and A. S. L. Rodrigues, in Correspondence (“Speaking different languages on biodiversity” Nature 443, 506; 2006 doi:10.1038/443506a), raised the issue of vocabulary differences between conservation biologists and economists, a problem that has long been recognized by biodiversity scientists.

We carried out an informal email survey of different disciplines and stakeholders involved in biodiversity conservation, asking people to define terms such as biodiversity, ecosystem function and ecosystem goods and services. We received 25 responses. The definitions varied hugely, not only between ecologists and economists, but also between them and policy-makers. Most alarming is that the definitions varied among the 13 ecologists who responded. Although this is a small sample, they were all high-profile scientists and the results were surprising. When defining biodiversity, for example, seven used that of the Convention on Biological Diversity, two used species richness and four used other definitions.

To create solutions for biodiversity loss, it is essential for natural and social scientists to overcome such language barriers. But for this to be of any use, scientists also need to become much better at communicating their findings to policy-makers, and understanding from them the science knowledge that is required to make policy.

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  1. bioSUSTAINABILITY International Project Office, University of York, Heslington, Y010 5DD, York, UK

    • Alison Holt


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