Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 26, Issue 12, pp 2967–2972 | Cite as

An operational definition of essential biodiversity variables

  • Dirk S. SchmellerEmail author
  • Jean-Baptiste Mihoub
  • Anne Bowser
  • Christos Arvanitidis
  • Mark J. Costello
  • Miguel Fernandez
  • Gary N. Geller
  • Donald Hobern
  • W. Daniel Kissling
  • Eugenie Regan
  • Hannu Saarenmaa
  • Eren Turak
  • Nick J. B. Isaac


The concept of essential biodiversity variables (EBVs) was proposed in 2013 to improve harmonization of biodiversity data into meaningful metrics. EBVs were conceived as a small set of variables which collectively capture biodiversity change at multiple spatial scales and within time intervals that are of scientific and management interest. Despite the apparent simplicity of the concept, a plethora of variables that describes not only biodiversity but also any environmental features have been proposed as potential EBV (i.e. candidate EBV). The proliferation of candidates reflects a lack of clarity on what may constitute a variable that is essential to track biodiversity change, which hampers the operationalization of EBVs and therefore needs to be urgently addressed. Here, we propose that an EBV should be defined as a biological state variable in three key dimensions (time, space, and biological organization) that is critical to accurately document biodiversity change.


Biodiversity monitoring Conservation policy Biodiversity change Essential biodiversity variables Biological state variables 



The authors would like to thank A. Loyau for an insightful outsider’s view.


DSS, ER, CA, and JBM were financed by the EU BON project that is a 7th Framework Programme funded by the European Union under Contract No. 308454. CA additionally received funding from the LifeWatch Greece infrastructure (MIS 384676), funded by the Greek Government under the General Secretariat of Research and Technology (GSRT), ESFRI Projects, and National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF). MF was funded by the GEO-BON Secretariat. AB’s participation is supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. WDK acknowledges support from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (No. 654003) for the GLOBIS-B project (

Author contributions

All authors have intensively discussed the refinement of the EBV concept and have contributed to writing the manuscript under the lead of the first and senior author.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dirk S. Schmeller
    • 1
    • 2
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  • Jean-Baptiste Mihoub
    • 1
    • 3
  • Anne Bowser
    • 4
  • Christos Arvanitidis
    • 5
  • Mark J. Costello
    • 6
  • Miguel Fernandez
    • 7
    • 8
  • Gary N. Geller
    • 9
  • Donald Hobern
    • 10
  • W. Daniel Kissling
    • 11
  • Eugenie Regan
    • 12
  • Hannu Saarenmaa
    • 13
  • Eren Turak
    • 14
    • 15
  • Nick J. B. Isaac
    • 16
  1. 1.Department of Conservation BiologyHelmholtz Center for Environmental Research – UFZLeipzigGermany
  2. 2.Université de Toulouse; UPS, INPT; EcoLab (Laboratoire Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Environnement)ToulouseFrance
  3. 3.Université Pierre et Marie Curie, CESCO, UMR 7204 MNHN-CNRS-UPMCParisFrance
  4. 4.Woodrow Wilson International Center for ScholarsWashingtonUSA
  5. 5.Institute of Marine Biology, Biotechnology and AquacultureHellenic Centre for Marine ResearchHerakleionGreece
  6. 6.Institute of Marine ScienceUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand
  7. 7.German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-LeipzigLeipzigGermany
  8. 8.Instituto de EcologíaUniversidad Mayor de San Andrés Cota-CotaLa PazBolivia
  9. 9.Group on Earth Observations (GEO)GenevaSwitzerland
  10. 10.Global Biodiversity Information Facility SecretariatCopenhagenDenmark
  11. 11.Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED)University of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  12. 12.The Biodiversity ConsultancyCambridgeUK
  13. 13.University of Eastern FinlandJoensuuFinland
  14. 14.Australian MuseumSydneyAustralia
  15. 15.NSW Office on Environment and HeritageParramattaAustralia
  16. 16.Centre for Ecology & HydrologyWallingfordUK

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