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◊ A singular concept of biodiversity remains the best way to address the plural values of nature in conservation planning

Faith, D.P. A Singular Concept of Biodiversity Remains the Best Way to Address the Plural Values of Nature in Conservation Planning. Conservation 20211, 342-349.

Abstract: The term “biodiversity” generally refers to living variation. Biodiversity has recognized anthropocentric values of insurance and investment. Values of “nature” include those of biodiversity and also many other aspects reflecting the scope of human-nature relationships. Systematic conservation planning methods can integrate this range of local to global values. Early case studies in Australia and Papua New Guinea show the potential for such approaches. Recently, there have been calls for a re-casting of the concept of biodiversity to capture plurality of values. However, balance among sometimes conflicting values of nature is best-served by a singular biodiversity concept and definition focused on variety, because this enables effective integration with other values of nature. Attempts at pluralistic re-castings of biodiversity in fact may promote neglect of global biodiversity values. Further, an extended analysis of the Papua New Guinea case study shows that it cannot be argued that focusing on localized values of nature for conservation will effectively address regional/global scale conservation needs.

see original study,

Faith, D.P., Margules, C.R., Walker, P.A., 2001. A biodiversity conservation plan for Papua New Guinea based on biodiversitytrade-offs analysis. Pacific Conserv. Biol. 6, 304–324  pdf 

see also Biodiversity and the challenge of pluralism 

◊ Comment on ’In the Climate Emergency, Conservation Must Become Survival Ecology’

Faith, D.P. (2021) Comment on ’In the Climate Emergency, Conservation Must Become Survival Ecology’ Front. Conserv. Sci.

Every week we seem to see new proposals for a “paradigm shift” and/or “transformative change” for biodiversity conservation. As exemplified in this paper, these calls typically follow a similar recipe. First saying “We have not been able to halt the loss of biodiversity, therefore it is time for us to [INSERT IDEA HERE]. Second, presenting a caricature of current conservation, to make it appear that the new idea is a breakthrough. Here, I will note a few examples in this paper (quote followed by comment)

“If we are to persuade society to take conservation seriously, we must stop framing it as the altruistic quest to save other species from extinction, and instead present it as the selfish, pragmatic goal of sustaining the conditions for human civilisation and other life on Earth” and “By largely focusing on and marketing itself as the conservation of other species it has constrained itself to being only peripherally relevant to human society”

In reality, biodiversity conservation over the past 50+ years has been linked at its core to human well-being (e.g. what IUCN 1980 called insurance and investment values) – importantly this includes the well-being of future generations. See the history in the “Biodiversity” entry of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (1).

“survival ecology recognises that a focus on present values (which is the predominant focus of ES and NCP) is inappropriate in a time of rapid global change, and is explicitly forward-looking.” And “The ES, NCP, and NCS frameworks imply that species not contributing to the delivery of particular services should be deprioritised, though survival ecology makes no such value judgements and recognises the role of all species in maintaining complex and resilient ecosystems”

In reality, NCP is strongly forward-looking. For example, the NCP “Maintenance of options” recognises “all species” (biodiversity) as providing biodiversity option value – the ongoing potential for surprising new benefits for society. For discussion, see another Frontiers paper (2).

Conclusion: far from being new, this paper promulgates the narrow idea that the only value of biodiversity to humanity is through ecosystems and functions.

Daniel P Faith

University of Sydney

(1) Faith, D. P. “Biodiversity”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 2021, (Spring 2021 170 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),

(2) Faith, D. P. Valuation and appreciation of biodiversity: the “maintenance of options” provided by the variety of life Front. Ecol. Evol. 2021, 9, 635670. doi: 211 10.3389/fevo.2021.635670

◊ Phylogenetic diversity and biodiversity option value

Faith, Daniel P. (2021) Phylogenetic diversity (PD) provides biodiversity option value: how biodiversity has value now because it offers possible benefits in the future.  In:  30th International Congress for Conservation Biology (ICCB), Kigali, Rwanda. Abstracts.

see Phylogenetic diversity at ICCB2021.

◊ Phylogenetic diversity and human well-being – new paper

Faith, D. P. (2021) Valuation and appreciation of biodiversity: the “maintenance of options” provided by the variety of life Front. Ecol. Evol. 9, 635670. doi: 10.3389/fevo.2021.635670

The IPBES phylogenetic diversity indicator for “maintenance of options” (Faith et al 2018; IPBES 2018; see also Phylogenetic Diversity and IPBES ) now has been proposed by the CBD as an indicator to help monitor progress in the implementation of its post-2020 global biodiversity framework. See CBD/SBSTTA/24/3Add.1.  Goal B of the Post-2020 global biodiversity framework states that “Nature’s contributions to people have been valued, maintained or enhanced…”.  The IPBES phylogenetic diversity indicator serves one of the most critical of all the nature’s contributions to people, “maintenance of options”. This new paper addresses challenges in increasing public appreciation of this fundamental benefit/value of biodiversity. It concludes “…..appreciation of biodiversity (PD) option value will continue to be found through two kinds of phylogenetic observations. First, we see that already-known uses/benefits that are shared by species typically reflect the species’ shared ancestry – the shared feature can be explained by shared ancestry (as in the plants example above). Second, we see that surprising benefits continue to be found throughout the tree of life. It is this PD that ensures possible future benefits. These observations in combination can help to appreciate the core of biodiversity option value – it is not about already-known uses (we can target those species directly); it is about how variety maintains the prospect of surprising new uses.”

◊ Phylogenetic diversity of mammals – new paper

Robuchon, Marine ,Sandrine Pavoine, Simon Véron, Giacomo Delli, Daniel P Faith, Andrea Mandrici, Roseli Pellens, Grégoire Dubois, and Boris Leroy (2021) Revisiting species and areas of interest for conserving global mammalian phylogenetic diversity. Nature Communications  12, Article number: 3694 (2021).

see also the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre press release.

download Robuchon et al pdf

◊ Phylogenetic diversity and COVID-19

The COVID-19 Genomics UK (“COG-UK”) consortium provides large-scale and rapid whole-genome virus sequencing and analysis. In this report by the consortium, Lycett et al. (2020) describe their COVID-19 analyses for Scotland, including analysis of phylogenetic diversity: 9th-December-2020-COG-UK-Report-Scotland-SARS-CoV-2-a-genomics-perspective-SAGE and preprint

For discussion of COVID-19 phylogenetic diversity (PD) analyses, see COVID-19: phylogenetic diversity (PD) and SARS CoV 2

See also the new pages describing Phylogenetic diversity (PD) and possible reservoirs/hosts of novel coronavirus sars-cov-2 in animals

see also Microbial phylogenetic diversity (PD) and COVID-19

“Biodiversity”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Faith, Daniel P., (2021) “Biodiversity”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2021 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).

The introduction says:

“The term “biodiversity” is a contraction of “biological diversity” or “biotic diversity”. These terms all refer to the idea of living variation, from genes and traits, to species, and to ecosystems. The popular contraction “biodiversity” came about in the mid-1980s, heralded by a symposium in 1986 and an influential follow-up book, Biodiversity (Wilson 1988). These events often are interpreted as the beginning of the biodiversity story, but this mid-1980s activity actually was both a nod to important past work, and a launching of something quite new, in ways not fully anticipated.”

and the entry concludes:

“…The IPBES (2019) Global Assessment reported that one million species may be at risk of extinction. Compare that to a report 40 years earlier, headlined, “The Threat to One Million Species” (Norman 1981). Significantly, both reports highlighted how the threat of extinctions is a potential loss of variety and future options for humanity. However, in the more recent reporting, this message is just one of many storylines in a complex, overwhelming, “biodiversity” narrative. This tangle of different storylines suggests that we now also face a “second biodiversity crisis” (Faith 2019), in which “biodiversity” has become a malleable term that is shaped and re-shaped to serve various scientific and policy agendas. The fate of “biodiversity” (the term) may have a lot to say about the fate of “biodiversity” (the variety of life)…..”

◊ Review of the IPBES draft scoping report for the transformative change thematic assessment

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) prepared a draft scoping report in response to decision IPBES-7/1, in which the IPBES Plenary  approved a scoping process for a thematic assessment of the  underlying causes of biodiversity loss and the determinants of transformative change to achieve the CBD 2050 Vision for Biodiversity. My submitted comments (below) responded to the invitation for external review of the draft scoping report on the underlying causes of biodiversity loss, determinants of transformative change and options for achieving the 2050 vision for biodiversity.

Faith D. P. (2020) Review of the IPBES draft scoping report for the transformative change thematic assessment.

◊ Development of the Post-2020 global biodiversity framework

For the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice is carrying out a scientific and technical review of the updated goals and targets, and related indicators and baselines, of the draft post-2020 global biodiversity framework. This includes review of the Draft monitoring framework. I have provided a review, based on my authorship roles for Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) assessments:

Faith D. P. (2020) Review comments on the draft monitoring framework for the post-2020 global biodiversity framework

see also my review of “Linkages between the post-2020 global biodiversity framework and 2030 agenda for sustainable development”.

see also – The IPBES phylogenetic diversity indicator for “maintenance of options” – explained

Are candidate vaccine strains representative of the variation among the circulating virus populations?

Representativeness and typicality/atypicality criteria for vaccine development: methods and simple example analysis for the novel coronavirus, SARS CoV 2. Talk at May 12, 2020 meeting with the CSIRO Health & Biosecurity lab.    Faith talk pdf

A challenge for vaccine development for covid-19 is choosing the right “strains” (or “isolates”) to avoid establishing models with strains/isolates that are not representative of the circulating virus population. Bauer et al 2020 (“Supporting pandemic response using genomics and bioinformatics: a case study on the emergent SARS CoV 2 outbreak”  doi:10.1111/TBED.13588 ) highlighted the need to identify “the most representative strains for animal models and pre clinical research…”

An existing biodiversity method, “ED” (Faith and Walker 1996), uses the p-median and can be adapted for this purpose. The associated p-median is the sum of the distances from each sequence (isolate) to its nearest demand point. For representativeness , demand points are on a uniform grid in the n dimensional space; for typicality, they are actual sequences.
Representativeness, of one or more selected sequences, is greater if the p-median is smaller. Best addition to a given set is the one that best reduces the p-median.
Typicality, of one or more selected sequences, is greater if the p-median is smaller. Best addition to a given set is the one that best reduces the p-median.
Atypicality of a given sequence is large if the corresponding p-median is large.
Typicality may directly use the distances, not the space, generalising the idea of “centralized sequences”.

What about phylogeny?

The degree to which a candidate vaccine represents variants of the virus often will be examined by looking at the virus phylogeny. For example, a new paper in Nature claims that a candidate vaccine can be used for all the other strains of SARS-CoV-2. The conclusion is based on phylogenetic analysis of variants, and the observation  that “the variants of SARS-CoV-2 that clustered together had very less branching, indicating minimum variations” (Kar et al. 2020). This is plausible, but not quantified. The amount of variation should reflect not only amounts of branching but also branch lengths indicating changes. How is this fundamental property to be quantified? See COVID-19: Useful phylogenetic diversity (PD) calculations for the novel coronavirus, SARS CoV 2

IUCN Phylogenetic Diversity Task Force (PDTF) submission to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)

The PDTF has made an important submission to Notification 2019/108 from the Executive Secretary of the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity: on “Submission of views on possible targets, indicators and baselines for the post-2020 global biodiversity framework” (and regarding CBD/WG2020/2/3/ (CBD zero-draft of the post 2020 framework):

Conservation of evolutionary heritage supports the transformative change required for the CBD post2020 Framework: proposed phylogenetic diversity indicators as a contribution from non-state actors

In our submission, we note that the post 2020 global biodiversity framework seeks to bring about a transformation in society’s relationship with biodiversity. Such transformative change needs to address the CBD Vision’s[1] dual challenges to better appreciate the value of biodiversity and to halt its loss. The PDTF and partners commit to providing two phylogenetic diversity indicators. These address both a repeatedly overlooked value of a set of important species, and the equally overlooked value of overall biodiversity for humanity.


Dasgupta Review on the Economics of Biodiversity – Call for Evidence

A new (2019) independent global review on the Economics of Biodiversity has been led by Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta. The Review is to assess the economic value of biodiversity and to identify actions that will simultaneously enhance biodiversity and deliver economic prosperity. 

My submitted comments to the review can be found here. This also includes discussion of the failure of the Interim Report of the Dasgupta Review to address its agreed Terms of Reference

EDGE of Existence and phylogenetic diversity

Faith D.P. (2019) EDGE of Existence and phylogenetic diversity. Animal Conservation 22 (2019) 537–538.  DOI:10.1111/acv.12552

Awareness of the values of phylogenetic diversity (PD), and unprecedented expected PD losses, has catalysed an IUCN SSC Phylogenetic Diversity Task Force, which will communicate PD to conservation practitioners, decision-makers, and the public. EDGE of Existence assessments and conservation programs at the  regional/global scale highlight the importance of addressing missing species globally. The value of phylogenetic diversity also influences our risk-aversion in dealing with the uncertainties of missing species. Aversion to risk of worst-case outcomes might recognise priority, ignoring scenarios about missing species.  This is compelling – “extinction is forever” means the loss, forever, of phylogenetic diversity and its benefits to society.

Faith as-submitted commentary on Weedop et al

The Biodiversity Revisited initiative is exploring a “reframing of ‘biodiversity’”

They have provided some interesting criticisms of the science and policy associated with the term”biodiversity”, and have invited commentaries.

I provide a commentary “Biotic diversity revisited”.

See The fallacy of “Biodiversity Revisited”

Global assessment report of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

Diaz et al (in press) Summary for policymakers of the global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services. Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

see Phylogenetic diversity and IPBES

Global conservation of phylogenetic diversity captures more than just functional diversity

Owen, Nisha R., Gumbs, Rikki, Gray, Claudia L.,  Faith, Daniel P. (2019) Global conservation of phylogenetic diversity captures more than just functional diversityNature Communications

our paper corrects misrepresentations in the earlier Mazel et al. Nature Communications paper

we conclude: …Mazel et al.’s2 study misrepresents the feature-diversity rationale for PD conservation, and unjustifiably raises doubts about PD applicability in conservation programmes, potentially undermining the growing adoption of PD approaches. Reflecting their exclusive focus on functional traits, their introductory reference to the biodiversity crisis highlights loss of ecosystem functions but neglects loss of global option values. Yet option values were the earliest core values of biotic diversity seen as threatened by the extinction crisis3. The Mazel et al.2 study is another example of an all-too-common problem in biodiversity science, where an unwarranted exclusive focus on ecosystem functions/services typically implies a critical neglect of global biodiversity values15.

“Defending biodiversity”

my review of the book:

Defending Biodiversity: Environmental Science and Ethics
Jonathan A. Newman, Gary Varner, and Stefan Linquist. 2017.
Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.

Faith, D. P. (2019) Journal of Applied Philosophy, Vol. 36, No. 4, August 2019
doi: 10.1111/japp.12350

Avoiding paradigm drifts in IPBES

Faith, D. P. (2018) Avoiding paradigm drifts in IPBES: reconciling “nature’s contributions to people,” biodiversity, and ecosystem services. Ecology and Society 23(2):40.

ES-2018-10195Faith paradigm drifts  

more on IPBES and biodiversity value

Why biodiversity option value has normative standing

Faith DP (2018) Biodiversity’s option value: A comment on Maier (2018). Ambio.

full pdf Biodiversity’s option value: A comment on Maier (2018)

see also my response to his response

◊ How we should value biodiversity in the Anthropocene

Faith, D. P. (2018) How we should value biodiversity in the Anthropocene. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Biological Sciences 283. [online]

How we should value biodiversity in the Anthropocene  

(publisher has provided the above new journal link, after deleting the original link; full text also available on this page)

Local win-wins can be a regional disaster

Faith_Australian Zoologist 2017

Contemporary Evosystem Services include biodiversity option value

Faith DP, Magallón S, Hendry AP, Donoghue MJ (2017) Future Benefits from Contemporary Evosystem Services: A Response to Rudman et al. Trends Ecol Evol. 32(10):717-719. doi:

author copy here

(Rudman et al. failed to recognise that the maintenance of options, provided by biodiversity, is a current benefit/service. For discussion, see my blog at Biodiversity and contemporary evosystem services )

TREEfig1 2

Unreliable perspectives on phylogenetic diversity

Faith D.P. (2018) Unreliable perspectives on phylogenetic diversity. Available at:

PD – Multiple Values, Indices, and Scales of Application

Faith DP (2018) “Phylogenetic Diversity and Conservation Evaluation: Perspectives on Multiple Values, Indices, and Scales of Application”  Chapter 1 in: R. A. Scherson, D. P. Faith (eds.), Phylogenetic Diversity,

see extract at Dual values

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