Living the Question: The Social and Political Context of Biodiversity


Cassie Pataky

Senior Staff Writer

Recently, Dr. Millie Chapman, a postdoctoral researcher at the UC Santa Barbara-affiliated National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), garnered attention for her research on the social and political context of biodiversity. 

Chapman’s research is a continuation of what she worked on for her PhD at UC Berkeley, where she participated in an interdisciplinary program that focused on environmental policy and management of protected areas. She told The Bottom Line (TBL), “Science is a growing portfolio of work. After you finish a project, it often leads to more questions.”

At UC Berkeley, Chapman realized that “science alone is not going to solve global issues” and was drawn to NCEAS for her postdoctoral research because it is a renowned institution for its interdisciplinary and collaborative environment that addresses worldwide problems.

Throughout her research career, Chapman has enjoyed working with and learning from people. Compared to working alone in a lab, Chapman says, science “is a more dynamic and collaborative path to take than people realize.”

At NCEAS, Chapman and her colleagues considered how their biodiversity data reflects human interactions (as opposed to nonhuman ones), specifically concerning the effects of policies, social inequity, and conflicts. This manifests in a disproportionately large amount of data gathered from high-income countries. On a similar note, Science magazine writes that “extensive data collected within government-managed parks compared to community-managed and Indigenous lands might lead to systematic underestimates of biodiversity presence in the latter, misguiding ongoing dialogues about the impact of different land tenure, property rights, and management regimes on biodiversity outcomes.”

Because we use biodiversity data to inform environmental, social, and political policies, the effects of inequity, if overlooked, are preserved in future actions. Collected data draws awareness to specific areas, but what about areas that do not have sufficient data? Certain locations are often neglected as a result of social inequity and therefore do not receive the attention they need. Over time, without a more inclusive and equitable expansion of data collection or policy-directed change, these areas remain under the radar. Hence, Chapman and her colleagues argue for the importance of “thinking critically about underlying data, specifically the ways in which biases in data might propagate.”

With programs like the 30×30 initiative, California is at the forefront of both environmental action and mitigating social inequities, so Chapman’s claims are not likely to fall on deaf ears. She and her colleagues hope that moving forward environmental and legal policies will consider the limitations of biodiversity data and apply themselves as justly as possible. 

Recognizing the issue of how social inequity is present in conservation data is pressing, Chapman concluded, “We want to ensure that we’re not entrenching biases of the past into our future.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here