One of the major challenges that conservation biologists and environmental managers face when working with biodiversity data is its sheer volume.
These large volumes of data necessitate the use of well-designed Information Management Systems (IMS) that enable environmental managers to take a “big picture” approach towards addressing biodiversity issues and gain meaningful insights from data provided by specialists working in the field. This is particularly important for biodiversity offset programs in the extractive sector since success of the offset is closely linked to the quality of the information stored in the IMS.
In tropical environments, information can exist for thousands of species within any given area, collected by a variety of specialists including zoologists, ornithologists, herpetologists, entomologists, and botanists. Data collected can include scientific and common names of species, levels of conservation and species protection, use of species by local communities, and characteristics such as a species’ ecological niche, social organization, population, and taxonomic information. Ecologists may simultaneously collect information about biodiversity zones, documenting different types of vegetation units and physical attributes that characterize them such as temperature, elevation, and precipitation and evaporation regimes. A well designed IMS not only stores this data but also makes it easy to retrieve and analyze information of specific interest.
An Information Management System can also contain geospatial data, enabling it to be used with mapping tools and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Within a GIS, biologists and environmental managers can overlay numerous layers of data to identify spatial trends, locate species and ecosystems at risk, and develop plans for biodiversity conservation and management. By serving as the geospatial database that underpins the GIS, the IMS can therefore play an important role in facilitating both qualitative and quantitative analysis.
The human factor
Even the best Information Management System (IMS) can never replace good judgement and intelligent decision-making processes, and successful biodiversity conservation outcomes are rarely attributable to one factor alone. For large development projects in sensitive environments, it is particularly important for companies to adhere to industry best practices in order to ensure that impacts to biodiversity are avoided, minimized, mitigated, and offset (in that order). Nonetheless, a well-designed IMS can complement industry best practices and greatly facilitate biodiversity planning and management by serving as a tool that makes essential information available to the people who need it most.