Essential Biodiversity Variables

How should we study biodiversity change?

In an ideal world, we would study many different aspects of biodiversity and how they change over time. This would allow us to distinguish between natural ecological and evolutionary change and those changes brought about by human impacts in the Anthropocene era. But, time and data contraints mean we can only look at certain aspects of biodiversity.

Which aspects of biodiversity should we study and how will these change? 

What are Essential Biodiversity Variables? 

We should study those aspects that are essential to reveal variation to the world’s biodiversity. 

Similarly to studies of global climate system where the world’s climate scientists agreed on a set of core variables that would collectively show the effect of global climate change, known as Essential Climate Variables, biodiversity scientists have proposed a set of core variables that would collectively show the effect of anthropogenic change on biodiversity.

This work has been co-ordinated by the Group on Earth Observations Biodiversity Observation Network (GEO BON), soliciting the input and views of a wide range of experts in different fields of biodiversity measurement from around the world. 

Plants Under Pressure

Find out more about the Plants Under Pressure project

Museum staff

By Thom Trae - Imported from 500px (archived version) by the Archive Team. (detail page), CC BY-SA 3.0,

The Essential Biodiversity Variables will be used to track our progress against the: 

Six classes of Essential Biodiversity Variables

An initial list of Essential Biodiversity Variables has been refined through extensive consultation and discussion, and are grouped into six classes. 

The Essential Biodiversity Variables themselves represent an intermediate layer in between the data collected and the indicators that reveal trends in biodiversity change over time. 

A useful model of biodiversity change

Essential Biodiversity Variables form a useful conceptual model of the breadth of biodiversity and the ways in which it is changing. Using this model reveals that current biodiversity targets and their indicators mostly focus on a few Essential Biodiversity Variables, while other Essential Biodiversity Variables are poorly represented by internationally-agreed conservation policies. Also, certain Essential Biodiversity Variables are particularly suited to identifying very rapid changes in biodiversity.

Pteridophytes (ferns and mosses)

We have tripled the number of species of pteridophytes assessed using the IUCN Red List Criteria

Comparing plant biodiversity indicators

What’s the best way to measure small-scale biodiversity changes?


We assessed 1021 species of bryophytes from around the world using the IUCN Red List Criteria

Plant diversity hotspots

Visiting plant diversity hotspots in Africa

Simulating plant diversity change in UK peatlands

Simulating peatland plant species' response to changes in their environment


Schmeller, D.S., L.V. Weatherdon, A. Loyau, J.-B. Mihoub, N.A. Brummitt, A. Bondeau, L. Brotons, Y. Gavish, I.R. Geijzendorffer, P. Haase, M. Kümmerlen, C. Martin, C.J. Marsh, D. Rocchini, H. Saarenmaa, S. Stoll & E. Regan, 2018. A suite of Essential Biodiversity Variables for detecting critical biodiversity change. Biological Reviews 93(1): 55–71. doi: 10.1111/brv.12332.

Pereira, H.M., J. Belnap, M. Böhm, N. Brummitt, J. Garcia-Moreno, R. Gregory, L. Martin, C. Peng, V. Proença, D. Schmeller & C. van Swaay, 2017. Monitoring Essential Biodiversity Variables at the Species Level. Pp. 79–105 in M. Walters & R.J. Scholes (eds.) The GEO Handbook on Biodiversity Observation Networks, Springer International Publishing. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-27288-7_4.

Brummitt, N.A., E.C. Regan, L.V. Weatherdon, C. Martin, I.R. Geijzendorffer, D. Rocchini, Y. Gavish, P. Haase, C.J. Marsh, D.S. Schmeller, 2016. Taking stock of Nature: Essential Biodiversity Variables explained. Biological Conservation 213: 252–255.

Proença, V., L.J. Martin, H.M. Pereira, M. Fernandez, L. McRae, J. Belnap, M. Böhm, N. Brummitt, J. García-Moreno, R.D. Gregory, J.P. Honrado, N. Jürgens, M. Opige, C. Peng, D.S. Schmeller, P. Tiago &  C.A.M. van Swaay, 2016. Global biodiversity monitoring: from data sources to Essential Biodiversity Variables. Biological Conservation 213: 256–263.

Geijzendorffer, I.R., E. Regan, H.M. Pereira, L. Brotons, N.A. Brummitt, Y. Gavish, P. Haase, C.S. Martin, J.-B. Mihoub, C. Secades, D.S. Schmeller, S. Stoll, F.T. Wetzel & M. Walters, 2015. Bridging the gap between biodiversity data and policy reporting needs: an Essential Biodiversity Variables perspective. Journal of Applied Ecology 53(5): 1341–1350; doi: 10.1111/1365-2664.12417.

Pereira, H.M., S. Ferrier, M. Walters, G.N. Geller, R.H.G. Jongman, R.J. Scholes, M. W. Bruford, N. Brummitt, S.H.M. Butchart, A.C. Cardoso, N.C. Coops, E. Dulloo, D.P. Faith, J. Freyhof, R.D. Gregory, C. Heip, R. Höft, G. Hurtt, W. Jetz, D. Karp, M.A. McGeoch, D. Obura, Y. Onoda, N. Pettorelli, B. Reyers, R. Sayre, J.P.W. Scharlemann, S.N. Stuart, E. Turak, M. Walpole, M. Wegmann, 2013. Essential Biodiversity Variables for global earth observation. Science 339 (6117): 277–278.