C1. Research on Biological Diversity

Biological diversity, or simply biodiversity, is the sum of life on Earth – plants, animals and microbes – encompassing all levels of biological organization from genomes to species to ecosystems. Approximately 1.8 million species are known as a result of 300 years of the biological exploration of the planet. Astonishingly, an estimated 15-50 million species await discovery and basic description.  A grand challenge for the 21st century science is to expand and harness knowledge of Earth's biological diversity and to understand how it shapes the global environmental systems on which all of life depends. This knowledge is critical to science and society for rational policy for managing natural systems, sustaining human health, maintaining economic stability, and improving the quality of human life. The urgency for this knowledge increases daily as the conversion of natural systems to human-managed systems accelerates the decline of biological diversity at all levels of organization.

The importance of biodiversity research and education has been established by a series of landmark reports: U.S. NSF’s Task Force on Global Biodiversity (Black et al., 1989), the systematics and biological collections community’s Systematics Agenda 2000 (1994), the Australian government’s The Darwin Declaration (Environment Australia, 1998), Biodiversity II: Understanding and Protecting Our Biological Resources (Reaka-Kudla et al., 1997), and the U. S. President’s Committee on Science and Technology’s Teaming with Life (Lane, 1998).

Ecological and systematics research, which is aimed at elucidating the evolutionary history, geospatial pattern, community structure and ecosystem processes involved in the creation and maintenance of biological diversity, is becoming increasingly data-driven (Bisby, 2000; Bisby et al. 2002; Causey et al. 2004).  Cyberinfrastructure is enabling this transformation, and as more primary sources of historic and real-time environmental data streams come on-line, the role of networked information services and collaboration technologies will continue to expand (Edwards, et al. 2000; Withey, et al. 2002). Biodiversity data is increasing at the rate 107 new records per year. Libraries, museums and research centers are grappling with the issues of dealing with the deluge of data in a stable, online and integrative way (Berman and Brady, 2005). 

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