Opinion: To advance sustainable stewardship, we must document not only biodiversity but geodiversity

Franziska Schrodt, Joseph J. Bailey, W. Daniel Kissling, Kenneth F. Rijsdijk, Arie C. Seijmonsbergen, Derk van Ree, Jan Hjort, Russell S. Lawley, Christopher N. Williams, Mark G. Anderson, Paul Beier, Pieter van Beukering, Doreen S. Boyd, José Brilha, Luis Carcavilla, Kyla M. Dahlin, Joel C. Gill, John E. Gordon, Murray Gray, Mike Grundy, Malcolm L. Hunter, Joshua J. Lawler, Manu Monge-Ganuzas, Katherine R. Royse, Iain Stewart, Sydne Record, Woody Turner, Phoebe L. Zarnetske, and Richard Field.

Rapid environmental change is driving the need for complex and comprehensive scientific information that supports policies aimed at managing natural resources through international treaties, platforms, and networks. One successful approach for delivering such information has been the development of essential variables for climate (1), oceans (2), biodiversity (3), and sustainable development goals (4) (ECVs, EOVs, EBVs, and ESDGVs, respectively). These efforts have improved consensus on terminology and identified essential sets of measurements for characterizing and monitoring changes on our planet. In doing so, they have advanced science and informed policy. As an important but largely unanticipated consequence, conceptualizing these variables has also given rise to discussions regarding data discovery, data access, and governance of research infrastructures. Such discussions are vital to ensure effective storage, distribution, and use of data among management agencies, researchers, and policymakers (5, 6).

Although the current essential variables frameworks account for the biosphere, atmosphere, and some aspects of the hydrosphere (14), they largely overlook geodiversity—the variety of abiotic features and processes of the land surface and subsurface (7). Analogous to biodiversity, geodiversity is important for the maintenance of ecosystem functioning and services (8), and areas high in geodiversity have been shown to support high biodiversity (9). Thus, consideration of geodiversity is an important part of developing nature-based solutions to global environmental challenges and demands for natural resources, particularly in relation to human well-being and ecosystem functioning.

And yet, despite many facets of sustainable development being underpinned by access to geological assets, key elements of geodiversity are yet to be incorporated into policy documents and international conventions. We, therefore, propose essential geodiversity variables (EGVs) describing features and processes of Earth’s abiotic surface and subsurface to advance science and sustainable stewardship, complementing the existing essential variables (Table S2). These EGVs will enable more holistic and better-informed monitoring efforts, decision making, and responses to global change.

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