NSF Biodiversity Workshop
Enabling Biodiversity Research:
the Roles of Information and Support Networks
(National Science Foundation Grant No. 0970022)
The world is experiencing unprecedented and accelerating losses of biodiversity. This situation has perilous consequences for humanity, which depends on life’s richness and variety for our very existence. It is likely that much of life on Earth will vanish before it can be characterized, let alone understood, given current trends. Vast storehouses of resources and the knowledge of those resources are endangered.
With this background, the National Science Foundation (NSF) initiated a 10-year research initiative, “Dimensions of Biodiversity”. The purpose of the initiative is to generate breakthrough discoveries regarding the nature of life on Earth.
In support of this initiative, the National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) and its partners, US National Committee for DIVERSITAS of the National Academy of Sciences and the Encyclopedia of Life of the Smithsonian Institution, convened a two-day workshop. The workshop “Enabling Biodiversity Research: the Roles of Information and Support Networks” was held in December 2009 at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC. The approximately 60 participants represented 65 leading national and international biodiversity research institutions, most of which focus on building the information and other resources and services that are critical for biodiversity research. These services include housing scientific collections, generating and sharing information, and providing funding and other types of support.
The workshop found that the biodiversity research-enabling community is not sufficiently funded, organized, nor large enough to meet the challenges of understanding biodiversity in time to avoid catastrophic losses of life’s richness. There is a serious scarcity of biodiversity researchers and supporting organizations in the tropics, which contain the vast majority of biodiversity. It is important that researchers and supporting organizations around the world band together to enable and undertake a Multi-dimensional Research Program for Global Biodiversity.
The coming decades will challenge research communities and the research infrastructures they have built to grow across the traditional boundaries that have separated them. Participants in the workshop agreed that a new generation of ‘multi-dimensional’ research is needed to understand the relationships and processes that link genes, gene expression, development, physiology, population and community ecology, speciation, ecosystem functioning, and other dimensions of biodiversity.
Research infrastructures, especially reference collections and databases, will need to expand their missions and programs of work. In addition to providing access to comprehensive resources on one dimension of biodiversity (such as genetics), infrastructures will need to develop ways for researchers to navigate from the information sources they usually use into other dimensions, to support a new generation of research.
The workshop report, responses to a pre-workshop inquiry, and related background material about biodiversity and biodiversity science are available on this site.