Database needs adventurers

Climate change is a global issue, and its effect will be felt on every square centimeter of this earth, that issue is more or less cleared in the scientific community. The changing climate might not have as much impact everywhere and anytime, but there won’t be many places escaping its wrath.

Morning sun on lake Nahuel Huapi, Bariloche

We do know all this, we have known it for years. And still, we scientists manage to make the same mistake over and over again. We do know that our own backyard might not be the most important place on earth, but it is just much more difficult to look beyond its borders. Ecologists are not evenly distributed over earth’s surface either, an issue reflected in our research every time again. In a recent and highly interesting review about the impact of climate change on species distributions, this pitfall is painfully brought to light again.

Scientists should try to look a bit further than their backyard, unless it looks like this.

Scientists should try to look a bit further than their backyard, unless it happens to look like this.

In their review, the scientists mapped the ecoregions (a, on the map) and biomes (b) from where species distribution papers were available. It will not come as a surprise that the majority of research is focused on Europe (and to a lesser degree on North America). Massive parts of South America, Africa and Asia remain until now bare, empty spaces in our knowledge.

Map Lenoir and Svennings

Not that those areas don’t need any climate change research; the tropical forests with their biodiversity hotspots should not be easily forgotten. They just seem to be… too far.

The Scandinavian mountains turn out to be the ideal location for climate change research

The Scandinavian mountains turn out to be the ideal location for climate change research

Even in this globalised world, the need remains for good and trustworthy information on the less accessible places on earth. What climate change biology really needs now is hence a new generation of adventurers, ready to risk their life and love to fill the gaps on the map and in our knowledge. Our databases crave for it; big, raw pieces of unprocessed data… Please, bring it to me, it does not even need to be a time series of 40 years at once!

Torres del Paine

(Off course, there is a lot of work going on at the moment to get this issue out of the way; science never sleeps! With the MIREN-network (Mountain Invasion Research Network), for example, we try to fill in the gaps with a joint five-yearly field campaign in 8 different mountain regions from all over the world. Check my role in it here.)


Lenoir, J. and Svenning, J.-C. (2015), Climate-related range shifts – a global multidimensional synthesis and new research directions. Ecography, 38: 15–28. doi: 10.1111/ecog.00967

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5 Responses to Database needs adventurers

  1. cartoonmick says:

    If you’re looking for interesting landscapes with data for climate change, this may (or may not) be of interest to you.
    The scientific element may be slightly obscure, but it could put a smile on your face.


  2. I suspect there’s plenty of scientists who would be willing, eager even, but the lack of funding stops them. Research in your own back yard is much cheaper. I’d leave for South America tomorrow if someone threw money at me 🙂

    • That’s a good point! Money, or the lack of it, will always be in the way :). We are trying to get around that issue by working together with local scientists, and that seems to be a good solution!

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