The role of non-English-language science in informing national biodiversity assessments

Amano, T., Berdejo-Espinola, V., Akasaka, M., de Andrade Junior, M.A.U., Blaise, N., Checco, J., et al. (2023) Nature Sustainability.

In this paper we surveyed 37 countries where English is not an official language, and found that 65% of the references cited in their national biodiversity reports were in non-English languages. But non-English-language literature represents just 3.4% of the references cited in the IPBES reports.

This means that international assessments like those by the IPBES may be overlooking important, locally and regionally relevant scientific information on biodiversity conservation, as we also uncovered in this paper.

A quarter of report authors also said they struggled with understanding English-language literature, which shows that English-language barriers seem to impede the uptake of scientific evidence in decision making in those countries where English is not widely spoken. Luckily we have also found a solution to this; half of the report authors said having non-English titles/abstracts can help them search and understand English papers.

Our findings point to the importance of overcoming language barriers for making the best available evidence accessible to anyone regardless of the publication language, and achieving Target 21 of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework by the Convention on Biological Diversity.

This was another global collaboration with 37 coauthors around the world. We would like to thank all of the collaborators and those who participated in our survey.

View full publication, here.

Press releases are issued from:

References cited in national biodiversity assessments by language and literature type.

AI tools can improve equity in science

Berdejo-Espinola, V. & Amano, T. (2023) Science, 379: 991.

After Science updated its editorial policy to ban the use of text generated by AI tools in scientific papers, we wrote a letter to the Editor raising our concern about the decision made. We argue that AI tools like ChatGPT and DeepL might help alleviate current linguistic disparities in academia and thus improve equity in science.

Non-native English speakers face significant challenges when writing scientific papers in English, including rejection and requests for revision due to their English writing. Indeed, human English translation or editing services are costly and time-consuming, creating a multifaceted disadvantage for non-native English speakers. However, AI tools are cost-effective tools that can proofread English text with high accuracy, offering a unique opportunity for all non-native English speakers to have their research edited and proofread quickly and at a low monetary cost. This opportunity might be even more beneficial for those in low-income countries who cannot afford human editing services.

AI tools are evolving at a fast pace, showing great improvements in their accuracy, transparency, and legitimacy. A free tool is now available to distinguish between AI- or human-written text; thus, we suggest that journals allow authors to use AI tools for proofreading manuscripts before submission and request to declare its use (as Nature’s new policy does) and submit the original, pre-AI-edited version as well as the AI-edited version of the manuscript.

AI tools like ChatGPT are exciting technologies that can revolutionise our efforts to overcome linguistic disparities in disadvantaged communities.

View full publication, here.

We are also pleased to see that, in response to our letter, Science now recognises potentially acceptable uses of AI tools for writing papers and may consider adjusting its policies in future.

Language barriers in organismal biology: what can journals do better?

Nolde-Lopez, B., Bundus, J., Arenas-Castro, H., Román, D., Chowdhury, S., Amano, T., Berdejo-Espinola, V. & Wadgymar, S.M. (2023) Integrative Organismal Biology, obad003.

This study surveyed the author guidelines of 230 journals in organismal biology with Impact Factors of 1.5 or greater for linguistically inclusive and equitable practices and policies.

More specifically, we looked for efforts that reflect first steps towards reducing barriers to publication for authors globally, including the presence of statements that encouraged submissions from authors of diverse nationalities and backgrounds, policies regarding manuscript rejection based on perceived inadequacies of the English language, the existence of bias-conscious reviewer practices, whether translation and editing resources or services are available, allowance for non-English abstracts, summaries, or translations, and whether journals offer license options that would permit authors (or other scholars) to translate their work and publish it elsewhere.

We reveal that journals and publishers have made little progress towards beginning to recognize or reduce language barriers. Counter to our predictions, journals associated with scientific societies did not appear to have more inclusive policies compared to non-society journals. Many policies lacked transparency and clarity, which can generate uncertainty, result in avoidable manuscript rejections, and necessitate additional time and effort from both prospective authors and journal editors.

View full publication, here.

Trends and progress in studying butterfly migration

Chowdhury, S., Zalucki, M. P., Amano, T., Poch, T. J., Lin, M.-M., Ohwaki, A., Lin, D.-L., Yang, L., Choi, S.-W., Jennions, M. & Fuller, R.A. (2022) Integrative Conservation.

This study reviewed studies on butterfly migration published in six languages (English, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish), summarised how migration in butterflies has been studied, explored geographic and taxonomic patterns in the knowledge base, and outlined key future research directions.

We found that most English-language studies on butterfly migration (total English-language studies = 581) were from temperate or cooler regions, especially from the US and the UK, with far fewer from the sub/tropics, or the Southern Hemispher. However, by searching in four Asian languages and Spanish, we found another 345 relevant studies, mostly on species in North America (162 Spanish-language studies), but also in South America (44 in Spanish) and Europe (37 in Spanish), and Asia (99 studies in total: 59 in Japanese, 29 in Simplified Chinese, 11 in Traditional Chinese, and 1 in Spanish). This highlights the importance of including non-English studies in literature reviews.

View full publication, here.

The number of butterfly migration studies by language from each continent.

A comprehensive database of amphibian heat tolerance

Pottier, P., Lin, H.-Y. Oh, R.R.Y., Pollo, P., Rivera-Villanueva, A.N., Valdebenito, J.O., Yang, Y., Amano, T., Burke, S., Drobniak, S.M. & Nakagawa, S. (2022) Scientific Data 9: 600.

Rising temperatures represent a significant threat to the survival of ectothermic animals. As such, upper thermal limits represent an important trait to assess the vulnerability of ectotherms to changing temperatures. This study systematically searched the literature in seven languages to produce the most comprehensive dataset to date on amphibian upper thermal limits, spanning 3,095 estimates across 616 species.

Importantly, by searching in 6 non-English languages, we identified 27 relevant studies, which constitute about 13% of all studies included in the database. This again shows the importance of searching for non-English-language literature for a unbiased synthesis of ecological evidence.

View full publication, here.

Geographical locations at which experimental data were collected. Points denote which order of amphibians were assayed (point filling), at which life stage (point border) and in what language were the findings published (point shape).

Language barriers in global bird conservation

Negret, P.J., Atkinson, S.C., Woodworth, B.K., Corella, Tor M., Allan, J.R., Fuller, R.A. & Amano, T. (2022) PLOS ONE 17 (4): e0267151.

Multiple languages being spoken within a species’ distribution can impede communication among conservation stakeholders, the compilation of scientific information, and the development of effective conservation actions.

By combining global datasets of distributions of 10,863 bird species and 119 official languages in 252 countries/territoris in the world, we showed that a surprisingly large number of languages are spoken within the distribution of each bird species. For example, 1,587 bird species have 10 languages or more spoken within their distributions.

Importantly, we also showed threatened and migratory species have significantly more languages spoken within their distributions. Particularly high numbers of species with many languages within their distribution are found in Eastern Europe, Russia and central and western Asia.

View full publication, here.

Also explore our Bird Language Diversity app, where you can see where in the world particularly many species are associated with each language.

See the news release from The University of Queensland here.

(a) Relationship between bird species’ distribution range size and the number of official languages within their distribution. International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) threat categories are shown in different colours. Number of official languages spoken within each species’ distribution by (b) migratory status and IUCN threat categories, and by (c) taxonomic order.

Species richness of birds associated with each of the top six official languages with the highest number of species.

See for the results of other languages.

Growth of non-English-language literature on biodiversity conservation

Chowdhury, S., Gonzalez, K., Aytekin, M.Ç.K., Baek, S.-Y., Bełcik, M., Bertolino, S., Duijns, S., Han, Y., Jantke, K., Katayose, R., Lin, Mu-M, Nourani, E., Ramos, D.L., Rouyer, M.-M., Sidemo-Holm, W., Vozykova, S., Zamora-Gutierrez, V. & Amano, T. (2022) Conservation Biology.

It is often assumed that scientific articles are being published less frequently in non-English languages, as science is becoming increasingly globalised. This partly contributes to the current underestimation of the importance of non-English-language literature in conservation science, policies, and practices. In this study, we compiled the number of articles published annually in English and in 15 non-English languages by searching both local and international literature search systems. We show that in 12 of the 15 non-English languages we investigated, the number of conservation articles published per year has significantly increased over the past 39 years, at a rate similar to English-language articles. About 20% of the sampled non-English-language articles provided neither title nor abstract in English; thus, in theory, they were undiscoverable with English keywords. These results suggest that non-English-language articles will continue to play an important role in improving the understanding of biodiversity and its conservation.

View full publication, here.

Changes in the number of biodiversity conservation articles published from 1980 to 2018 in 16 languages based on searches for the keywords biodiversity AND conservation (translated into each language) in Google Scholar and local literature search systems (S, simplified; T, traditional).

A solution for breaking the language barrier

Khelifa, R., Amano, T. and Nuñez, M.A. (2021) Trends in Ecology & Evolution.

Language barriers have multiple consequences in science. On the one hand, non-native English speakers seirously struggle with language barriers, for example, when writing and publishing papers in English. On the other hand, language barriers can also impede the effective transfer of scientific knowledge, such as the global compilation of non-English-language knowledge and local application of English-language scientific knowldge. In this article, we propose a potential solution to these problems – developing and implementing a system on a preprint platform for facilitating the exchange of language skills among researchers (in the form of “peer language proofing” and “peer language translation”).

View full publication, here.

The process and benefits of a peer language proofing (PLP) and peer language translation (PLT) system in preprint repositories. The list of benefits provided is not exhaustive.

Tapping into non-English-language science for the conservation of global biodiversity

Amano, T., Berdejo-Espinola, V., Christie, A.P., Willott, K., Akasaka, M., Báldi, A., et al. (2021) PLOS Biology 19(10): e3001296.

It is commonly assumed that any important scientific knowledge would be available in English, and, as a consequence, scientific knowledge used in international studies and assessments is predominantly sourced from English-language documents. But is this assumption correct? Few studies to date have quantified the contribution of science written in non-English languages to scientific communities and the application of science. This new research unveils the untapped, enormous potentials of science written in languages other than English in the conservation of global biodiversity.

This research scrutinises over 400 thousand peer-reviewed papers in 326 journals published in 16 languages, and identifies 1,234 studies that provide scientific knowledge on saving species and ecosystems. Importantly, the number of such non-English-language studies being published is increasing, found in particular in areas and for species where English-language knowledge is scarce, including Latin America and other regions where conservation is needed the most.

The findings have important implications for global efforts tackling the biodiversity crisis, where lack of evidence is a commonly faced issue when trying to implement evidence-based conservation. The research demonstrates that incorporating non-English-language studies can expand the availability of scientific evidence on saving species and ecosystems into 12-25% more areas and 5-32% more species (see figures below).

Most global studies and assessments on biodiversity report significant gaps in the availability of scientific knowledge, quite often without having explored science written in non-English languages. The findings of this research indicate that making the best use of non-English-language science can be a quick, cost-effective approach to filling such gaps, facilitating a wider application of evidence-based conservation globally.

This research also sheds light on how linguistically and culturally diverse scientific communities can maximise the contribution of science to addressing urgent global challenges.

View full publication, here.

See the Supporting Information files for Alternative Language Abstracts in 16 languages (French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, simplified Chinese, Spanish, traditional Chinese, Turkish, and Ukrainian).

Also see our piece at The Conversation here.

Press releases are also issued in multiple languages:

The location of 1,203 non-English-language studies testing the effectiveness of conservation interventions, compared to English-language studies. Amano et al. (2021) Tapping into non-English-language science for the conservation of global biodiversity.

The number of English- and non-English-language studies testing the effectiveness of conservation interventions for each amphibian, bird, and mammal species.

Ten tips for overcoming language barriers in science

Amano, T., Rios Rojas, C., Boum II, Y., Calvo, M. and Misra, B. B. (2021) Nature Human Behaviour 5: 1119–1122

Language barriers have serious consequences in science, creating inequality for under-represented communities, making non-English-language knowledge inaccessible, and impeding the uptake of science by decision-makers. Yet language barriers in science are rarely tackled seriously enough. To change the current lack of concerted efforts, we believe scientific communities need a clear checklist for tackling and solving language barriers. Here we, as a group of non-native English speakers working in diverse scientific disciplines, have listed ten tips to help everyone in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) start tackling and solving this issue. We hope the ten tips serve as a starting point for academia in ending the lack of concerted efforts and solving this overlooked issue.

View full publication, here.

View the ten tips in a storytelling format here.

Also see below its summary in French, Japanese and Spanish.