A Red List of insect experts in Europe

New EC-funded project will identify trends in taxonomic expertise across Europe to identify gaps in expert knowledge

Europe’s largest bumblebee, Bombus fragrans, is currently assessed as an Endangered species.
Illustration by Denitza Peneva.

Insects are the largest taxonomic group in the animal kingdom. Three out of four described animal species belong to the class Insecta. They are widely distributed in terrestrial and aquatic environments. Indispensable to the ecosystem, insects drive key processes such as pollination, decomposition, soil formation and supply an essential part of the food webs.

Yet, insect populations have been catastrophically plummeting. For example, recent studies have shown a decrease of 75% of insect biomass in German Nature Reserves in less than 30 years, and the situation is probably no less dramatic anywhere in Europe. According to the European Red List of threatened species, one in ten bee species and a quarter of all grasshopper species are at risk of extinction. As it becomes clear how dependent on insects our ecosystems and our economy are, people gradually realise the dramatic consequences of insect decline.

One less known aspect of this global crisis is on the agenda today: the shrinking number of insect taxonomists, the scientists on whose highly specialised skills we depend to obtain knowledge on the diversity of organisms. Without taxonomists, no study of species or ecosystems would be possible, as we would not be able to recognise what biodiversity we are losing.

Here is why the European Commission has funded a new project to embark on the pioneer task to assess the status of taxonomic expertise on insects in Europe. A “Red List” of taxonomists will be compiled for the first time for any group of organisms. The effort is being undertaken by a diverse and interdisciplinary team of experts, including the organisation uniting the most important and largest European natural science collections (CETAF) and the world’s authority on assessing the risk of extinction of organisms: IUCN (the International Union for Conservation of Nature).

As with typical European Red List (ERL) assessments, normally applied to species level, the project involves the collection and evaluation of the available information about the number, location, qualification and field of specialisation of insect taxonomists and the application of systematic criteria to assess the risk of their “extinction”. This concept has never been applied to scientists before, but by using the ERL analogy, the project aims to combine those groups of insects and those countries that bear the highest risk of losing the associated taxonomic expertise and potential gaps.

Bringing together individual scientists, research institutions and learned societies from across Europe, the project will compare the trends and pull up recommendations to overcoming the risks, preserving and further evolving the expert capacity of this scientific community. Unlike species extinctions, the loss of taxonomic knowledge is reversible, especially when the needs are clear and the necessary resources are invested in education, training, career development and recognition.


Additional information:

CETAF is the European organization of Natural History Museums, Botanic Gardens and Research Centers with their associated natural science collections comprising 71 of the largest taxonomic institutions from 22 European countries (18 EU, 1 EEA and 3 non-EU), gathering expertise of more than 5,000 researchers. Their collections contain a wide range of specimens including animals, plants, fungi and rocks, and genetic resources which are used for scientific research and exhibitions. CETAF aims to promote training, research collaborations and understanding in taxonomy and systematic biology as well as to facilitate access to our natural heritage by sharing the information derived from the collections.

IUCN (the International Union for Conservation of Nature) is a membership Union composed of both government and civil society organisations. It harnesses the experience, resources and reach of its more than 1,400 Member organisations and the input of more than 17,000 experts. This diversity and vast expertise makes IUCN the global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it.

Pensoft is an independent academic publishing company and technology provider, well known worldwide for its novel cutting-edge publishing tools, workflows and methods for text and data publishing of journals, books and conference materials. Through its Research and Technical Development department, the company is involved in various research and technology projects. Founded in 1992 “by scientists, for scientists” and initially focusing on book publishing, Pensoft is now a leading publisher of innovative open access journals in taxonomy and biodiversity science.

Special issue: Natura 2000 appropriate assessment and derogation procedure

The focus is on the case-law of the European Court of Justice and the German Federal Administrative Court

With over 27,500 sites, Natura 2000 is the greatest nature conservation network in the world. It covers more than 18 percent of the land area in the European Union and around 395,000 km2 of its marine territory.

Projects and plans within those sites or in their vicinity require an appropriate assessment to ensure that they will not have a significant impact on the integrity of a Natura 2000 site, according to Article 6(3) of the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC. The Natura 2000 appropriate assessment is the central statutory instrument for the protection of the network, in addition to the general prohibition of deterioration.

An assessment must take place prior to the authorisation and implementation of a project or a plan. As a result of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) having maximised the effectiveness of the assessment by a stringent legal interpretation, a project or a plan must be rejected by the competent authorities if there is any remaining reasonable scientific doubt that it might adversely affect the integrity of the site.

Nevertheless, in accordance with the European principle of proportionality, the Habitats Directive does not intend to ban all human activity in Natura 2000 sites. This is the reason why, on the one hand, only significant adverse impacts on the integrity of a Natura 2000 site are relevant and, on the other, according to Article 6(4) Habitats Directive, a derogating authorisation is possible in favour of public interests.

However, numerous questions, which are relevant in practice, have so far only been considered by national courts. A special issue recently published with the open access journal Nature Conservation features a comprehensive review of the relevant case-law of the German Federal Administrative Court (BVerwG), which has thoroughly dealt with the Natura 2000 regime in a long series of judgements.

The author, Dr. Stefan Möckel of the Helmholtz-Centre for Environmental Research GmbH, Germany, is a long standing specialist in European and German nature conservation law. Within the four articles comprising the issue, he analyses the scope, procedural steps and requirements of the appropriate assessment and the derogation procedure. He also comments on the interpretations and practical solutions found by the ECJ and the BVerwG.

The first article explains the main steps and demands of the appropriate assessment. Questions on the scope of the terms “project” and “plan”, as well as determining significant impacts are discussed in greater detail in the second and third article. The fourth paper explores the requirements needed for a derogation to be approved.


Original source:

Möckel S (2017) The European ecological network “Natura 2000” and the appropriate assessment for projects and plans under Article 6(3) of the Habitats Directive. In: Möckel S (Ed.) Natura 2000 appropriate assessment and derogation procedure – legal requirements in the light of European and German case-law. Nature Conservation 23: 1-29. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.23.13599

Möckel S (2017) The terms “project” and “plan” in the Natura 2000 appropriate assessment. In: Möckel S (Ed.) Natura 2000 appropriate assessment and derogation procedure – legal requirements in the light of European and German case-law. Nature Conservation 23: 31-56. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.23.13601

Möckel S (2017) The assessment of significant effects on the integrity of “Natura 2000” sites under Article 6(2) and 6(3) of the Habitats Directive. In: Möckel S (Ed.) Natura 2000 appropriate assessment and derogation procedure – legal requirements in the light of European and German case-law. Nature Conservation 23: 57-85. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.23.13602

Möckel S (2017) The European ecological network “Natura 2000” and its derogation procedure to ensure compatibility with competing public interests. In: Möckel S (Ed.) Natura 2000 appropriate assessment and derogation procedure – legal requirements in the light of European and German case-law. Nature Conservation 23: 87-116. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.23.13603