BYLINE: Deborah McKew, BRI Communications Director

Newswise — My four-year-old grandson is obsessed with finding mushrooms in our wooded yard. Last summer, he located at least 25 different species of mushrooms, different sizes, colors, textures and even personalities. Discovering so many mushrooms in our yard prompted me to do some research and wow, was there a lot to find. Currently, there are more than 10,000 known types of mushrooms. That may seem like a large number, but those who study these fungi (aka mycologists) suspect that this is only a fraction of what’s out there. “It’s amazing what we don’t know about mushrooms. It really is a frontier of knowledge,” says science journalist Michael Pollan in the documentary film Fantastic Fungi.

So why does the world need so many types of mushrooms, or spiders, or birds, or any other species? The answer is wrapped up in the term biological diversity. Every species on Earth plays an integral part in the health of our planet. When an organism becomes extinct, a wide web of other organisms suffers, and we all suffer in the long run. The study of mushrooms has helped scientists understand the intricate connectedness all species have to the earth and to each other.

As BRI marks its 25th anniversary this year, we reflect on the impacts our wildlife research has had in the big scheme of things. Some of our scientists have been studying the effects of mercury on wildlife and their habitats for more than three decades. But it has only been a little more than one decade that we started to see the results of our work filter up to the highest branches of government where policy is decided, and land-use management is carried out. Policy determines how we protect our environment and creates a platform to build awareness. Awareness leads to caring, and caring leads to action. Even small actions can lead to huge improvements in sustainability.

In the quest to conserve life on earth, many global environmental conventions have been initiated: Minamata Convention on Mercury; Convention on Biological Diversity; and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, to name a few.

Since 2011, when BRI executive director and chief scientist David Evers was invited to join the Scientific Committee for the United Nation’s Minamata Convention on Mercury, BRI has been delving deeper and deeper into the realm of policy. From participation on the scientific committee for this global treaty to remove and reduce mercury in the environment to an executing agent carrying out research around the world to help make that happen, BRI scientists have been at the forefront of informing high-level policy with a global reach.

As the threat of climate change continues to increase, a noticeable gap has emerged—the integration of these global conventions to achieve more than any single convention can on its own. BRI scientists are committed to helping make this integration happen. One major step towards such integration is the development of effective and efficient sharing of information to improve impact and policy effectiveness assessments. For example: the UNEP World Environment Situation Room maintains information on biodiversity and threats; BRI manages a global database on mercury data in biota; our scientists attend relevant Conventions; BRI produces scientific communications to aid in the political discourse.

To assess the effectiveness of the global conventions, and the countries that participate in these conventions, a necessary next step is to develop better ways to integrate information on biodiversity, threats to biodiversity, and efforts to reduce these threats. In response to the long-term need for evaluating the Convention’s effectiveness in reducing global environmental mercury loads, the Minamata Convention is working with Parties and other stakeholders through an Open-ended Scientific Group forum. These efforts by UNEP help to pave the way for improved information sharing and knowledge flow.

Biodiversity is critical to our survival. Teaching our children early to enjoy and respect the natural world can only help build the sustainable future we all want and need.


Mercury and Biological Diversity

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), adopted in 1992, aims for conservation of biological diversity and the sustainable use of natural resources. The loss of biodiversity threatens our food supplies, opportunities for recreation and tourism, and sources of wood, medicines, and energy. It also interferes with essential ecological functions. The underlying causes of biodiversity loss are often complex and stem from many interrelated factors.

The CBD is launching its post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework that sets out an ambitious plan to implement broad-based action to bring about a transformation in society’s relationship with biodiversity and to ensure that, by 2050, the “shared vision of living in harmony with nature” is fulfilled. This BRI publication is available here.

Related Links:

Minamata Convention on Mercury

Convention on Biological Diversity

UN Framework Convention on Climate Change


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