Promoting Local and EU Research toward reducing the Loss of Biodiversity Biodiversity and Conservation research needs to contribute effectively toward improving the every day decisions and planning in relation to local and international agreements on sustainable development and biodiversity conservation.

Conservation biologist, Adriana Vella was invited to participate in the recent meeting in Finland organized by the EPBRS (European Platform for Biodiversity Research Strategies). The meeting was entitled “Actions for the 2010 biodiversity target in Europe - how does research contribute to halting the biodiversity loss?”

Biodiversity provides benefits for humans through ecosystem services and goods. Biodiversity is directly used as a source for food and other extractable resources. Furthermore, biodiversity plays an important role in maintaining, regulating or supporting ecosystem services including regulation of air, water, climate, floods, disease and wastes. Biodiversity is also important for the fulfillment of people's cultural and spiritual needs. It is difficult to put a monetary value on the services, but recent estimates suggest that worldwide they are in the order of hundreds of billions of Euros/year ('Halting the loss of biodiversity by 2010 - and beyond' Communication from the Commission, COM (2006) 216 final).

The aim of the EPBRS meeting held under the Finnish EU presidency, therefore, was to provide material that would help the EU and the international policy processes to accelerate the implementation of measures to halt the biodiversity loss by formulating more precise expectations on biodiversity research and policy.

One workshop at this meeting also focused on the role of youths and lifelong education toward biodiversity research and education. The immediate need of having biodiversity and conservation integrated in syllabi at all levels of education and seeing more biodiversity conservation related topics featuring in both formal and informal education was stressed.

Examples of such useful and necessary local research undertaken at University level are research projects run by the Conservation Biology Research group led by Adriana Vella, Senior Lecturer and researcher at the University of Malta. Some interesting recent conservation research projects include: the bat ( Myotis punicus ) population was studied in various ways including the use of molecular genetics tools, without having to sacrifice the animal, which was undertaken by Byron Baron. This species has been noted to be data deficient by the IUCN Red list of threatened species and thus highlights the need to find more about this species before it may go extinct. Unfortunately the local results indicate that indeed the population is small with moderate genetic diversity, both indicators of urgent action needed if this species is to be effectively conserved; Investigations of the biodiversity richness and quality in country side Eco-Walks promoted for ecotourism in Malta and Gozo were undertaken by Robert Formosa and Luana Ronsisvalle (photos). These studies produced insights into the biodiversity value of each Eco-walk considered side by side to the human activities which may promote or impoverish such value; yet another example is the study by Michela Hili who investigated the population genetic structure of coastal organisms, such as hermit crab (Clibanarius erythropus), for future species and habitat conservation needs. Indeed the clear genetic differentiations in this species found between certain coastal regions around the Maltese Islands, indicated that though small the local setting may still fragment and partially isolate subpopulations. Effective conservation measures also need careful consideration of the genetic diversity being allowed to contribute to future generations.

All these conservation research projects contribute toward the much needed local biodiversity research requirements, conservation risk assessments and recommendations. Of course one effective way of promoting urgent biodiversity knowledge and conservation is to have funds allocated for such educational and research needs. The challenges of climate change on biodiversity will also need urgent and careful monitoring, planning and management.

Apart from undertaking various long-term conservation research projects herself, Dr Vella is also the coordinator of the Malta National Biodiversity Platform and the Maltese partner in an EU project on Biodiversity called BioStrat.

A part of the Mgarr to Xlendi walk just before reaching Xlendi Bay