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Providing data to protect biodiversity.

The United Nations this week released its 1,140-page Global Biodiversity Assessment, a tome that describes the global patterns and importance of biodiversity and the causes and dangers of its decline.

"It is easily the most comprehensive report that has ever been done on biodiversity," asserts Nels C. Johnson of the World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C., who along with many others helped prepare the assessment.

More than 126 countries, but not the United States, have ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity, an international environmental protection treaty negotiated in 1992 (SN: 5/8/93, p.303). The U.N. released the report Tuesday at a biodiversity conference it sponsored in Jakarta, Indonesia. The meeting began Nov. 6 and ended Nov. 17. Over 1,000 participants, including government representatives and environmental experts, discussed ways of helping countries implement the treaty.

Among the report's numerous authors, "there was a lot of controversy about certain topics," particularly the number of species that currently exist and the rate at which they are disappearing, says Jane Lubchenco of Oregon State University in Corvallis, also a report coordinator.

The assessment concludes that 5,366 animal and 26,106 plant species stand "at significant risk of extinction in the foreseeable future," almost entirely because of human activities. Since the 1600s, scientists have documented 484 animal and 654 plant species extinctions.

However, the authors suspect that, because of habitat loss, many more extinctions have actually occurred.

They avoid discussing how to protect individual species, instead urging researchers and policy makers to focus on guarding the genetic diversity within species. Although some members of a genetically diverse species may fail to withstand a major environmental change, such as global warming, other members with a slightly different genetic makeup may carry on.

Biodiversity helps people as well as ecosystems, the report points out. Ecosystems with a wide variety of species appear better able to withstand or recover from environmental disturbances. Humans need a host of creatures to perform such services as pollinating plants, creating soil, and detoxifying pollutants.
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Title Annotation:UN's Global Biodiversity Assessment
Author:Adler, Tina
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Nov 18, 1995
Words:339
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