This pioneering initiative puts Catalonia at the forefront of biodiversity monitoring, together with countries such as the United Kingdom and The United States of America.
The Catalonian Government and CREAF have worked together to offer a comprehensive biodiversity monitoring program for Catalonia, called SISEBIO. According to the General Director of Environmental Policy, Ferran Miralles, SISEBIO will be a pillar to future policy on biodiversity management. This will be a pioneering initiative in Spain, following the lead of countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States, “countries that put biodiversity monitoring systems into place years ago. Catalonia will be the next,” states Miralles.
SISEBIO will permit biodiversity monitoring in Catalonia which is up-to-date, integrated, standardized and well-coordinated, from the species and community levels to habitat and landscape. “Up till now we have only been able to obtain information periodically using information sources such as photographs to describe the status of biodiversity. Now, it will be possible to create ‘videos’ with ‘live’ and continuous data which help us understand what is going on and how biodiversity is changing. We can compare current and previous ‘movies’ and make environmental policy more efficient and sustainable,” explains Javier Retana, CREAF Director.
CREAF has analyzed the biodiversity monitoring plans in Catalonia which are currently active and has proposed integrating the most representative of these within SISEBIO. Where gaps have been found, recommendations have been made, in some cases stipulating the creation of new monitoring programs. According to Lluís Comas, CREAF researcher and coordinator of the project, the system will also serve to understand how living beings are responding to the pressures of civilization and global change. To improve understanding of these particular drivers, SISEBIO should be integrated with the monitoring programs used to gauge the principal threats to ecosystems: climate change, pollution, disturbances, and biological invasions, among others.
Butterflies, birds, and plants are the sentinels of terrestrial biodiversity
For terrestrial environments, SISEBIO will feed two monitoring programs for animal species: the Catalan Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (CBMS) which is coordinated by the Granollers Natural Sciences Museum, and the program Monitoring of Common Birds in Catalonia (SOCC for its Catalán acronym), managed by the Catalonian Institute of Ornithology. For plants, SISEBIO proposes the use of data from the National Forest Inventory (IFN for its Spanish acronym) which is run by the Spanish Government’s Ministry of Agriculture and supervised by CREAF within Catalonia. However, Lluís Comas remarks “just the data from IFN are not enough to evaluate all Catalonian habitats. According to benchmark initiatives within Europe, not just forests but all other vegetation is also key for precise monitoring of terrestrial environments and currently we don’t have enough information.”
SISEBIO also stresses that in Catalonia there is no active program monitoring soil decomposer organisms, requiring the installation of a monitoring system which could take a shape similar to others found around Europe. “There are a number of soil organisms which could provide a lot of information. The most notable are beetles, but snails, fungi, and bacteria can also tell us about the biodiversity and health of ecosystems,” says Comas.
Regarding habitats, initiatives such as the Land Use Map of Catalonia and Cartography of Habitats of Catalonia are key projects for analyzing changes in the landscape.
Extending monitoring efforts of the Catalonian Water Agency to continental water bodies and coastal areas
Entering into compliance with the European Water Directive yielded the Control Program for Water Bodies, managed by the Catalonian Water Authority. This program is responsible for physical and chemical analyses of water, but it also gathers data on the biodiversity of continental and marine water bodies. According to SISEBIO, this program should continue to function as the benchmark monitoring system in Catalonia for both freshwater and marine water bodies.
Experts believe that marine waters in particular represent the biggest gap in knowledge from the perspective of biodiversity monitoring. For that reason, SISEBIO argues that it is important to improve biodiversity monitoring in Catalonian marine ecosystems. Developing this system would help gauge the status of coastal ecosystems which are characterized by organisms such as Posedonia, a marine plant, as well as phytoplankton, both of which are important indicator organisms for the underwater world.
Permanent monitoring plots as “movie sets” for terrestrial biodiversity monitoring
The most ambitious recommendation of SISEBIO is the creation of a network of Permanent Biodiversity Monitoring Areas. According to Retana, “these areas would be like the sets used to film movies. They would concentrate the sampling and monitoring efforts of many different groups of scientists and facilitate continuous and concerted monitoring of the most representative organism communities.”
With this basis, this year will see the implementation of a network of permanent parcels for monitoring of vegetation in protected natural areas managed by the central Catalonian Government and the regional Barcelona and Girona governments. These spaces are imagined to turn into hot spots of knowledge with a special focus on biodiversity. At present a number of areas have already been selected for their representativeness: Alto Pirineo Natural Park, Els Ports Natural Park, Cadí-Moixeró Park, Mas de Melons Natural Reserve, Monseny Natural Park, and Gavarres Natural Area; monitoring of flora and the structure of terrestrial habitats will begin first in these areas, to be complemented later with monitoring of decomposer organisms.