Five vacant niches in the biodiversity blogosphere

As the variety of life diminishes fast all around us the time is right for more bloggers to focus on biodiversity and create a bigger conversation about what its decline means. There are plenty of vacant spaces in the blogosphere left for them to fill.

The blogosphere is like an ecosystem that teems with many diverse forms of life. Blogs can compete or cooperate, can eat or be eaten. There are parasites out there too, in search of a free ride. Many blogs evolve. Many more go extinct.

The comparison with biodiversity irresistible. But where in this virtual web are the blogs about the web of life? (For a reminder of why this matters see the UN’s 2010 Global Biodiversity Outlook report and for a reminder of what biodiversity is, watch this).

In August 2010, the blog site of biologist Stuart Pimm’s research group (past and present) looked for the best biodiversity blogs and came up with a top five and some runners-up. I like their list and there are plenty others I would recommend too, but before posting a response I decided to take a field trip through the biodiversity blog ecosystem to find out what else I was missing.

I discovered patches of richness — (here) — including many blogs that deserve much bigger audiences. Some tell great, engaging biological stories about rare or weird species, conservation activities, harmful things humans do, or the way biodiversity benefits us. Others track and comment on new research and policy developments.

But I also found that many ecological niches in this particular ecosystem are empty — and just waiting to be filled.

Here are five of them:

1. There is some good, critical analysis out there but nowhere near enough — and hardly any public debate. At the same time there are many agenda-led blogs with large audiences that present an unrealistic portrait of biodiversity. There is a big role waiting for new bloggers with some relevant knowledge and a way with words to enrich the biodiversity blogosphere and encourage a shift to more engagement across it.

2. Many blogs focus on wildlife and wild places, or policies or markets, or scientific papers but don’t relate these dimensions of biodiversity to people’s daily lives. I don’t mean to say that they shouldn’t — (they should and I am glad they do) — just that there are many openings for bloggers who can not only write about these things but also bring them back home and make them relevant to readers. There is room for blogs that get to grips with how biodiversity matters to humanity, what its decline could mean and what we might do about it. Blogs that give clear, well-communicated answers to straightforward questions like these could enable people need to make key decisions that could have large effects.

3. Very little information from the most biodiverse countries reaches audiences in the rest of the world (at least that’s my sense as someone who can read only English). There are countless stories and insights to share, but the stream of information from South to North is so right now very narrow and it often must flow uphill. There are many vacant niches — and hungry audiences —  for blogs that translate to linguistically-challenged English readers what is happening around the world.

4. There are also some rich and important topics that are under-covered and up for grabs, especially for bloggers who provide a critical, impartial view and make their posts relevant enough for readers to discuss and debate. I’m thinking of things like the collision between protected areas and local development; the whole concept of sustainable use; captive breeding and zoos; bioprospecting versus biopiracy;  the economic and spiritual values of nature; and — of course — how to communicate effectively about biodiversity.

5. Last but not least… very few blogs even have biodiversity in their name.  That’s probably because so few blogs focus purely on biodiversity — and partly because biodiversity is still such an specialist piece of jargon. People have talked about dropping the term biodiversity for years but I am convinced now that it is here to stay. If I am right there are lots of good names waiting for new bloggers.

All of the above does not mean I think there are no good biodiversity blogs. Far from it. There are many (my favourites and new discoveries are listed here so if you can suggest any more, please leave a comment there).

But there is also plenty of space for many more bloggers in this particular ecosystem. If you can think of other vacant niches for them please comment here.

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9 Responses to Five vacant niches in the biodiversity blogosphere

  1. Just when I thought we might be saturated with blogs and first run out of readers, you made me realise the empty niches. I aim to sneak into niche 2, and your post has helped me think about how to ensure I stay there!

    http://thesciencesays.wordpress.com/2010/09/

  2. Stephen says:

    If I could get paid to blog then I would happily do a mix of practical tips, the relevance of the latest science is relevant and in-depth analysis directed at the public. Speaking of course as enviro jurno for hire…;]

  3. Nophea says:

    If REDD agreement becomes reality, biodiversity loss is still a concern. Carbon credit seekers are likely to focus on high-carbon stock forests … Having blogs on biodiversity surely benefit us.

  4. Hi. I enjoyed your analysis, and will give it some thought on how I could possibly steer my future writing. I am not a researcher, but a botanist, landscaper, educator. We have recently completed an exciting new Biodiversity Showcase Garden in Cape Town, which will be opening to the public on the 20th dec. It’s a mix of plants, art, educational displays and interpretation. I have started a personal blog which covers the project background and the development of the displays. It is not rigorous or scientific – more a personal account of the amazing biodiversity found here at the Cape. But as a botanist I can vouch for accurate information. At the moment it is heavily photo-based – in future I plan to write more about the background considerations (e.g. do we include hybirds and selections in the Biodiversity Garden).
    Anyway – enough said. Have a look if you’re interested.

  5. jeffollerton says:

    Hi Mike – Just spotted this piece during a web search and it makes for thought provoking reading. I decided to start blogging about my biodiversity-related teaching and research activities a few weeks ago; hope it’s of interest: http://jeffollerton.wordpress.com/

    Best,

    Jeff

    • mikeshanahan says:

      Hi Jeff, welcome to the blogosphere. I’ve subscribed to your RSS feed and look forward to reading more.
      All the best
      Mike

      • jeffollerton says:

        Thanks Mike. After reading a bit more of your site I realise we have a mutual friend in Steve Compton who I’ve known for years. Steve helped me with some insect identifications when I was a postgrad in the early 90s; we kept in touch via conferences and so forth and I examined one of his PhD students a few years ago. Small world!

        Jeff

      • mikeshanahan says:

        Yes, Steve was my PhD supervisor in the late 90s. Small world indeed.

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