Key gaps in Ireland’s biodiversity knowledge

Part of the State of Knowledge initiative in 2010 involved identification of key knowledge gaps that could be filled by 2020, to coincide with the next major international biodiversity target.

These were published in Ireland’s Biodiversity in 2010: Knowledge Gaps [download 2 MB].

General issues

An issue central to filling knowledge gaps of many aspects of biodiversity is capacity building. Research and surveying tend to deal with conspicuous biological groups which are accessible to the majority of recorders. The greatest body of biological diversity, however, occurs within the biological groups of the smaller, less conspicuous organisms for which there is only patchy knowledge. For these groups, the challenge lies in developing the expertise to identify and describe the organisms that occur in Ireland.

Another issue common to many aspects of biodiversity is the need for an Integrated Land Information Management System, linking biodiversity data with environmental and land use information. Such an integrated system could enhance the value of individual datasets by providing important contextual information and provide enormous added value.

There is a need for additional national monitoring programmes, and where possible these should build upon existing national programmes and should be designed to delivery multiple outputs to achieve greatest efficiencies.

Habitats and vegetation

Needs here relate to developing new national frameworks to deliver significant benefits for land use, conservation and strategic planning, and lead to greater efficiencies in the long term. These national frameworks include the development of a National Habitat Map, Vegetation Classification System, and landscape spatial data infrastructure.


A great deal has been done to describe Ireland’s invertebrates, but a large body of work still remains for some of the more complicated groups. Capacity building to deal with these groups is required, but there is established expertise within the country which should be utilised to fill some key gaps in the short term.


A huge body of work remains to document Ireland’s marine biodiversity resource. It will be challenging to make inroads in this within the next 10 years unless significant resources are dedicated to it. There are however, some immediate opportunities for improving our knowledge by availing of existing expertise – these opportunities should be used.

Mammals, freshwater fish & birds

Knowledge of these groups has increased significantly over the last few decades. Knowledge of the composition and distribution is fairly well known, and future requirements relate more to tracking change and gaining a better understanding of ecosystem function to inform management. The maintenance and support of the citizen science network is an issue.


Knowledge of plants is patchy. Vascular plants are well studied; however, systems for tracking change are needed. Knowledge of lichens is improving, but little is known about other fungi. The ability to make significant progresson expanding the knowledge base of a perceived difficult group through targeted funding and action is clearly demonstrated by bryophytes. We have recently moved from a position of poor bryophyte knowledge to having a comprehensive database of records and a national conservation assessment.


Specific gaps identified were:

1. Managing Irish biodiversity data efficiently

National Biodiversity Infrastructure requirements:

  • National Habitat Map
  • National Vegetation Classification System
  • Integrated Land Information Management System
  • Maintain and expand taxonomic capacity

2. Tracking important changes in Irish biodiversity

National Monitoring programmes that need to be established:

  • Soil Biodiversity Monitoring Programme
  • Vascular Plant Monitoring

3. Improving knowledge of Irish biodiversity

(a) National checklists that need to be published:

  • Fungi
  • Diatoms
  • Hemiptera (bugs)
  • Crustaceans
  • Sponges
  • Elasmobranchs
  • Marine fish

(b) Basic surveys that need to be carried out:

  • Fens
  • Freshwater habitats
  • Vegetation of open habitats
  • General marine (50 – 1,000m)
  • Historic demesnes
  • Freshwater algae
  • Soil fauna
  • True bugs
  • Fungi
  • Freshwater crustaceans

(c) National databases that need to be developed:

  • Fungi
  • Stoneflies
  • Grasshoppers
  • Saproxylic beetles
  • Beetles (Ground beetles, chrysomelids, staphylinids)
  • Diatoms
  • True bugs
  • Earwigs
  • Elasmobranchs
  • Crustaceans

4. Improving knowledge of the state of Irish biodiversity

Red Lists that need to be completed:

  • Vascular plants
  • Lichens
  • Hoverflies
  • Mayflies
  • Saproxylic beetles
  • Freshwater crustceans
  • Stoneflies
  • Ladybirds
  • Macromoths
  • Ground beetles
  • Seaweeds
  • Marine molluscs
  • Elasmobranchs
  • Grasshoppers
  • Dragonflies