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Biodiversity report shows data is crucial for meeting our most urgent challenges

May 23, 2023

By Michiel Kolman, PhD

Bee on a strawberry flower in summer (©

New Elsevier study highlights top nations for biodiversity research while focusing on the Netherlands

When it comes to meeting the challenges around sustainability, climate change and the environment, data is one of the most powerful tools we have. Data can help research institutions focus their efforts, data can reveal the most impactful ways to collaborate around research, and data can help policy makers turn research into action.

Those were among the findings of Elsevier’s recent report Biodiversity research in the Netherlands and worldwide, which provides a global overview of biodiversity research with a focus on Dutch biodiversity research. As with Elsevier’s previous reports on Net Zero and the role of the Global South in achieving Net Zero, this new publication draws on the vast amount of information in Elsevier’s Scopusopens in new tab/window database and combines it with analytical expertise from a wide-ranging network of authors, editors and publishers well-versed in putting findings into context.

As with those that came before it, the resulting report provides a roadmap for action for governments and institutions globally and shows once again how data can help institutions focus and develop their contributions towards the biggest issues facing humanity.

Download the report 'Biodiversity research in the Netherlands and worldwide: What published academic research tells us'

Biodiversity research in the Netherlands and worldwide

Download the report opens in new tab/window

Biodiversity itself is one of the most complex features of our planet, representing the species and organisms that work together to support life. It’s simultaneously one of our greatest natural defenses against climate changeopens in new tab/window, and a complex system being destroyed by climate change. There is an urgent need to address the threats to biodiversity and protect the planet’s natural resources. This requires a global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protect habitats and promote sustainable practices in agriculture, fishing and other industries. It also requires a greater recognition of the value of biodiversity and the role it plays in supporting life on Earth. By taking action to protect and conserve biodiversity, we can help to ensure a healthy and sustainable future for ourselves and future generations. Our report into biodiversity in the Netherlands aims to understand research on this topic and drive action around it.

“It is essential to bend the curve of the ongoing global biodiversity decline — and for that, we need high quality scientific research to understand the dynamics of biodiversity loss and to assess what needs to be done in terms of mitigating measures and policies. This report underlines that Wageningen University & Research is highly committed to biodiversity research and collaborates with partners around the world to increase our knowledge to protect and enhance terrestrial and marine biodiversity.”

Prof Dr Arthur PJ Mol


Arthur PJ Mol, Prof Dr

Rector Magnificus at Wageningen University & Research

A global perspective

The world of research is so international and interconnected that this deep dive into the state of biodiversity research in the Netherlands inevitably reveals a great deal about the current state of global biodiversity research. The report shows that Europe as a region is contributing 41% of all articles on biodiversity, well above the United States (21%) and China (16%), with strong contributions from Latin America (16%) and Africa (7%). Research in the Netherlands is in the global top three countries for impact, with a Field Weighted Citation Impact (FWCI) of 2.40, while Switzerland and Sweden have FWCIs of 2.44 and 2.38, respectively. It’s a useful tool for helping universities understand the contribution they make to society as a whole, and for advocating for further change.

What is Field Weighted Citation Impact?

Field-Weighted Citation Impact (FWCI) is the ratio of the total citations actually received by the denominator output and the total citations expected based on the average of the subject field. It is sourced directly from SciValopens in new tab/window.

“The report provides a useful summary of the outsized biodiversity research in Dutch universities, the importance of biodiversity research in a broader societal context, and the key research groups and institutions. International collaborations by Dutch researchers are a stand-out feature highlighted by the report. The report highlights that despite a relatively low priority from the Netherlands government, Dutch scientists have a globally significant impact in biodiversity and environmental research, with most financial support for biodiversity research being sponsored by the European Union.”

Prof Dr Andrew Skidmore, PhD


Andrew Skidmore, Prof Dr

Full Professor, Department of Natural Resources at Research University of Twente

The revealing nature of data

While the Netherlands is in the top three countries for research impact, the data analysis reveals that in terms of activity, the Global South is performing very strongly. Countries like Brazil, Mexico and South Africa publish substantially more on biodiversity than their overall contribution to global research.

Moreover, the analysis indicates that there is a high level of international collaboration on this topic, and this generates a high level of impact. European biodiversity research is highly international, with 70% of all articles having international authorship. In particular, collaborations between Dutch researchers and African researchers have outstanding impact, with FWCI values of 3 or more, and the story is similar for Brazil, Sweden and Switzerland. The data indicates that on this topic in particular, an international output leads to greater impact. We also see strong collaborations between academia and industry.

Key findings

  1. Above average scientific impact globally. The FWCI for research in biodiversity is 1.22 — 22% above the overall average for research globally.

  2. High international collaboration. Of all articles, 37% are published with authors from more than one country. This is higher than 21% for research articles globally. European biodiversity research is highly international, with 70% of all articles with international authors. The international collaboration is remarkably high in the Netherlands, with 83% of all biodiversity research publications.

  3. Strong contribution from Europe. Europe as a region is contributing 41% of all articles, well above the United States (21%) and China (16%), with strong contributions from Latin America (16%) and Africa (7%). Within Europe, the UK, Germany and France lead in output, but Sweden, the Netherlands and Switzerland lead in (citation) impact.

  4. Key Global South countries characterized by high relative activity. Countries like Brazil, Mexico and South Africa publish substantially more on biodiversity than their overall contribution to global research, while countries like Russia, India, China, and Japan publish relatively much less.

  5. International collaborations with researchers in Africa have outstanding impact. The international collaboration on biodiversity research with African researchers has high citation impact, with FWCI values of 3 or more. In particular, African-Dutch collaboration has a FWCI of 3.5, while the collaborations between Africa and Switzerland, Brazil and Sweden are even above 4, illustrating the strength of Global North-South as well as South- South partnerships on biodiversity science.

A platform for action

One of the most encouraging revelations from the report is that biodiversity research is accelerating, with the volume of research up 10% this year from previous years. Increasingly, it appears that the importance of biodiversity is being recognized in research, and this has the potential to translate into policy and action. With the Netherlands in the top three countries for citation impact, it means Dutch research is likely to have some interesting impacts on policies worldwide, and the high impact of those collaborations with Africa, Brazil and Mexico means that researchers in the Global South are also making an impact on global policy.

“Im not surprised by the Netherlands outsized role in research or international collaborations; centers such as the Naturalis Biodiversity Center are known to have a major role in biodiversity analysis, data aggregation and collaborations. Collaborations like these can help provide the baseline data and build the capacity needed to monitor biodiversity and better target and conserve biodiversity, especially in highly diverse countries which may lack the capacity to conduct such analysis without collaboration.”

Prof Alice Hughes, PhD


Alice Hughes

Associate Professor at School of Biological Sciences, University of Hong Kong


To gain a comprehensive understanding of the current landscape of biodiversity research, a thorough methodology was employed in this report. We used Elsevier’s Scopus — a comprehensive, source-neutral abstract and citation database curated by independent subject matter experts. Scopus contains a vast array of publication types, including articles, reviews, conference papers, book chapters, editorials and abstract reports (for further details, see APPENDIX B). By querying Scopus, a broad range of relevant publications on the topic of biodiversity can be gathered. Data was gathered for the period from 2017 until 2022, unless otherwise stated in the report.

In addition, we sought to gain insights into the funding of biodiversity research by using Funding Institutional, a database that harvests data directly from funder websites. This data is then standardized and curated by Elsevier, enriched with Scopus ASJC categories (‘All Science Journal Classification’ which adds research discipline categories to funding opportunities and awarded grants1), Scopus Author IDs (which connect researcher names with awarded grants), and Scopus Affiliation IDs (which connect affiliation names with awarded grants) to remove any ambiguities.

To ensure the capture of a comprehensive set of biodiversity research-related publications, we conducted several tests using different search terms relevant to the field. We then created a search string composed of multiple terms, which targeted titles, abstracts and keywords, to retrieve a broad set of relevant publications.

For this report, we identified biodiversity research by using specific terms, such as biodiversity, species richness, species diversity, ecosystem diversity, phylogenetic diversity, functional diversity, conservation biology, and ecological diversity. We used the same terms to identify funding opportunities related to biodiversity research. Our search string for identifying relevant research was as follows: TITLE-ABS-KEY(“biodiversity” OR “species richness” OR “species diversity” OR “ecosystem diversity” OR “phylogenetic diversity” OR “functional diversity” OR “conservation biology” OR “ecological diversity”).

1 There are 27 Scopus ASJC categories, ranging from medicine to engineering to business management, each with subcategories.


Michiel Kolman, PhD


Michiel Kolman, PhD

Senior VP, Research Networks, and Academic Ambassador


Read more about Michiel Kolman, PhD