Simplicity, complexity theory, and biodiversity

Earth systems science applied to biodiversity credits

This methodology breaks away from conventional scientific approaches, firstly, by recognizing climate as a complex system that now exhibits properties of a chaotic system. Therefore, this methodology is based on emerging science and theory regarding complex adaptive systems. Secondly, this biodiversity methodology does not attempt to classify and measure all of the species in an ecosystem. An estimated 7 million of the world’s species have not been characterized (Mora et al. 2011). Finally, this methodology does not make the mistake of adapting carbon-crediting methodologies and trying to apply them to biodiversity.

The planet is in crisis and this methodology prioritizes clear and immediate action that provides measurable results. Today’s best planetary science also supports this earth systems science approach.

Complex adaptive ecosystems maintain their resilience, that is, their ability to self-heal. In such systems, small changes can have oversized effects. Disruption can irreversibly knock them out of balance, and small conservation efforts can have butterfly effects much larger than the sum of their parts.

By tackling these measurement challenges head-on, ISBMs approach provides a robust, nuanced perspective on biodiversity and ecological health. We strive to optimize our methodologies and remain receptive to ongoing scientific developments in the field.

ISBM is both grounded in complexity theory and also respects and aligns with Indigenous knowledge systems. Central to our approach is the selection of 3-30 indicator species in each bioregion. These species, encompassing a diverse mix of trees, birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians, are chosen for their sensitivity and rarity, serving as living barometers of ecosystem health.

This approach eliminates the need for invasive and exhaustive scientific surveys in high-value ecosystems that are under-researched. As an example, two of our pilot sites in the Tropical Andean biodiversity hotspot discovered unrecorded high-value species during the first year of project implementation (Bush Dog in Villagarzón pilot (Tobon 2023), and Green Anaconda on Waorani pilot (Woodyatt 2024) ). We cannot afford to wait to quantify to conserve. Instead, this methodology is direct enough to be carried out by Indigenous and local communities and aligns with traditional ways of life and wisdom about preserving their environment.

Furthermore in the ISBM, projects are rewarded not for activities, or for ex-ante projections, but for ex-post outcomes (Wilburn 2023). Outcomes are measured and reported on an ongoing basis. This logic is consistent with complexity science as evidence shows that iteration for an outcome is more effective in designing changes for complex systems which often exhibit randomness, nonlinearity, and tipping points in systems-level change (Resnicow and Vaughan 2006).

By rewarding outcomes, in the form of indicator species, we increase real-time incentives for participants. This also frees BCPs to experiment and utilize all available means to achieve desired results. Further positive extensions of conserved habitat or indicator species are directly coupled to VBC crediting and thus promptly rewarded.

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