CMEC is part of developing standards for evaluation of research models in biodiversity

30. January 2019

Together with colleagues from the DNRF’s Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate (CMEC), head of center Carsten Rahbek is part of a new study that, for the first time, presents standards for distribution models in biodiversity research. The study was recently published in the scientific journal Science Advances.

(Photo: Warlon G. Vasco/Unsplash)
(Photo: Warlon G. Vasco/Unsplash)

Head of center Carsten Rahbek, together with international researchers and colleagues from the Center of Excellence CMEC, is behind a new article in Science Advances that presents best practice standards within the study of biodiversity. Besides Professor Rahbek, the study team includes Miguel B. Araújo, Raquel A. Garcia and Babak Naimi from CMEC; Professor Araújo is the article’s lead author.

Nature is threatened by a human-made biodiversity crisis and researchers across the world are trying to find a scientific solution. Over the past 20 years researchers within the field have used the most common method to build models for biodiversity, called species distribution models (SDMs) in more than 6000 studies. More than half of these studies have tried to apply the results to at least one type of approach to biodiversity, such as predictions of climate change and nature preservation, among others. A large part of SDMs thus feed into the way we globally deal with human bias on nature. Despite the big influence of SDMs, no general or foundational standards for best practices have been made regarding the formation of models, including the selection of data, the construction of the models themselves and the evaluation of the models’ scientific sufficiency.

But now, researchers from CMEC, in collaboration with several international colleagues, have written a scientific article in which they submit the first guidelines for the study of biodiversity. In the article, the researchers underline how research in biodiversity lacks a common scientific approach, and therefore, they present the first one within the field.

“The aim was to reach consensus on best-practice standards for models in biodiversity assessments so as to provide a hierarchy of reliability, ensure transparency and consistency in the translation of scientific results into policy, and encourage improvements in the underlying science,” said Carsten Rahbek, head of CMEC.

In the article, the researchers propose enforcing standards differentiated as gold, silver, and bronze to assess different aspects of the models, including data, strategy, and evaluation. Moreover, another category, labeled deficient, will be used to cover unacceptable practices in relation to the configuration of models that can be used to develop models in the future as well as support political arguments.

Read more about the standards and the article at CMEC here.

One of the main reasons the researchers behind this article decided to develop the standards is that researchers in the field disagree about what constitutes best practice.

“The consensus achieved represents a landmark in the field and we hope it will help biodiversity assessors navigate the jungle of published papers as well as contribute to increasing the quality of the data and models used in biodiversity assessments,” concluded Araújo.

The article in Science Advances can be found here.

Watch a video that presents the researcher’s article here: