Researchers from the University of Queensland have helped design an app to protect endangered birds around the world by breaking down language barriers between scientists.
The Bird Language Diversity web application will help provide the ‘big picture’, ensuring vital information is shared to improve conservation around the world.
UQ’s Dr Pablo Negret said the research team analyzed more than 10,000 bird species and found that 1,587 species have 10 or more languages spoken in their ranges.
“Scientific information about species can be scattered across different languages, and valuable information can be missing or lost in translation,” Dr Negret said.
“Without adequate information sharing, this can compromise the effectiveness of conservation measures.
“Take the common pochard bird for example; it is classified as vulnerable and spans 108 countries in Europe, Russia, Asia and North Africa, where a total of 75 official languages are spoken.
“The survival of the common pochard, and so many other species, depends on effective collaboration and political agreements between people from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds.”
To help solve this problem, UQ researchers have collaborated with scientists around the world as part of the Translate project, to develop the Bird Language Diversity app.
“This app reveals where threatened and migratory birds exist geographically, relative to the language spoken in those areas,” Dr Negret said.
“Simply select a language to see the number of bird species that live in that language area, or compare that language’s impact on bird species globally.
“We hope the app will inspire researchers and conservation organizations to interact with their peers in other regions, particularly if they speak different languages, and be a starting point for everyone to work together to protect endangered species.
UQ researcher and paper co-author Dr Tatsuya Amano said this work could extend beyond bird species.
“Any species, whether mammals, amphibians or plants, whose range spans multiple countries will be affected by language barriers, as will species that migrate across different countries, such as marine species and butterflies,” Dr Amano said.
“The magnitude of the impact of miscommunication on such an important issue is obvious, and that’s why we’re working hard to improve science communication in all languages.”
Dr Amano said positive steps had been taken in recent years to reduce the language barrier and facilitate better scientific communication, but there was still room for improvement.
“The scholarly community is certainly getting better at overcoming these barriers, and many academic journals have recently changed their policies to become more language-inclusive,” he said.
“But the question is still largely ignored, so we really hope that our most recent work will shed more light on the importance of overcoming these obstacles to better conserve life on Earth.”
This research is published in PLOS ONE.