Yvon Le Maho – CNRS research director, member of the Academy of Sciences, President of the Natural Heritage and Biodiversity Scientific Council
“I’m a great believer in public participation, involving the public in scientific monitoring.”
1 – What is the value of long-term monitoring in terms of biodiversity research?
Long-term monitoring is absolutely essential as it enables us to gain an understanding of evolutions and trends in animal and plant populations.
But it is not enough in itself. The monitoring process must be combined with research work as it is vital that we understand the reason behind these changes. For example, concerning the conservation of long-living species, it is crucial that we understand the reasons behind any drop in the adult survival rate.
2 – What are the key roles of technological innovations in monitoring biodiversity?
Sadly biodiversity monitoring does not attract the same level of resources as space science, and this limits the amount of technology at our disposal. But technology is vital. For instance, together with other colleagues, I used Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) to study the long-term effects of the wing-ringing of penguins on their reproductive success. This technique enables us to store and retrieve data remotely using markers known as radio-tags. These tags, or transponders, consist of an antenna and microchip enabling them to receive and respond to radio requests sent by the transceiver. This means that it is now possible to monitor a penguin throughout its life without ever having to re-capture or even see it.
New technologies can thus provide essential scientific information and avoid bias in surveys, but as I said, the use of technology remains too limited in the field of biodiversity, and it’s a real shame.
3 – Can members of the public play a role in scientific biodiversity monitoring?
I’m a great believer in public participation, involving the public in scientific monitoring. Amateur naturalists have a great deal of expertise. The proof is the United Kingdom, where there is immense collaboration in the field of ornithology.
The way forward is to achieve complementarity with the “professionals”: researchers and other scientists.
There are mutual benefits: the researchers share their methods and tools with the “amateurs”, and in return receive vast amounts of data from highly motivated groups of people; the amateurs, for their part, give their time and knowledge. In return, they can benefit from the researchers’ new analytical techniques and technological developments and also have their observations published much more widely than they could ever achieve by working alone.