Researchers at the Academy’s Institute for Biodiversity Science and Sustainability journey around the globe to discover and document Earth’s life forms. As environmental change accelerates, our efforts to explore and explain the nature of life and address the challenge of sustainability are pressingly urgent and increasingly important.
Gathering data is just the beginning. Academy scientists also analyze and distill these data and share their knowledge with citizens, conservation organizations, policy makers, and others who can benefit from this information, training, and education.
Alaska's Juneau Icefield, 2012
In collaboration with the Juneau Icefield Research Program and the U.S. Forest Service, this expedition aimed to inventory the plants and beetles of "Paradise Valley," a lush isolated valley, virtually surrounded by ice and apparently ice free for hundreds if not thousands of years-potentially an ideal spot for the differentiation of new species. The botanists, entomologist, soil biologist, glaciologist, and geologist pursued different lines of evidence to estimate just how long the valley has been ice-free.
On this recent expedition to survey fish and corals in Parcel Manuel Luiz, of the northernmost coral reef in Brazil, Academy scientists collaborated with researchers from Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina under the auspices of the SISBIOTA-MAR project. A key objective was to evaluate the status of the fire coral, Millepora laboreli, a species that was almost completely decimated by bleaching during the 1999 El Niño. This year, Academy researchers were glad to see that many of its colonies had recovered.
As part of a National Science Foundation Planetary Biodiversity Inventory (PBI) program, Academy researchers participated in a two-month, multi-team expedition to lowland rainforests, cloud forests, and high elevation environments above the tree line (paramo ecosystems) in search of nearly 500 Colombian species that make up a large branch of the Princess Flower family tree called the tribe Miconieae.
Gulf of Guinea
For the past twelve years, the Academy's herpetology curator Dr. Bob Drewes has conducted seven multidisciplinary explorations of the island nations São Tomé and Príncipe. His research in the Gulf of Guinea just off Africa's west coast has documented an extremely high concentration of unknown and endemic bird species. During his most recent expedition, Dr. Drewes and his team partnered with the government to distribute biodiversity educational materials to schools, hospitals, hotels, and airports.
Academy scientists traveled to Oahu and Hawaii's Big Island to document the distribution of mosquito species that have a role in transmitting infectious disease. Two invasive species-Aedes albopictus (Asian tiger mosquito) and Aedes aegypti (yellow fever mosquito)-are vectors of dengue virus. Dr. Shannon Bennett, the Academy's curator of the Department of Microbiology, has discovered ecologic factors that inhibit the spread and efficacy of these species.
2014 Philippine Biodiversity Expedition
Continuing a long tradition of scientific research in the Philippines, the Academy began its latest exploration of this biodiversity hotspot in April 2014. This intensive, multidisciplinary research expedition—the largest scientific diving exploration in the Academy’s history—would include more than 50 scientists and staff and span seven weeks. The primary goals: to document the rich marine biodiversity of the Verde Island Passage region, and to work with local governments to further conservation and outreach efforts in this island nation.
For over two decades, Academy scientist Dr. Brian Fisher has led research expeditions to this island nation in the western Indian Ocean near Africa, identifying more than a thousand new species of ants and partnering with 180 taxonomic collaborators around the world. This year, Dr. Fisher focused on documenting the ant population of the Kasijy, one of the last standing pristine forests in Madagascar.
Mount Tamalpais, 2012
Academy scientists, in partnership with the Marin Municipal Water District, led a team of volunteers to the Bay Area's Mt. Tamalpais to conduct a citizen science "bio blitz"—a focused survey of botanical life within a targeted portion of the watershed's 18,000 protected acres. These volunteers, aka "citizen scientists" have established a new baseline of plant and animal distributions in the face of climate change. Their work has added many specimens, photos, and GPS coordinates to records that advance the Academy's research.
Academy scientists journeyed to the field station of the Nigerian Montane Forest Project to conduct the first in-depth survey of amphibian and reptile fauna on the Mambilla Plateau in eastern Nigeria.
Raja Ampat, Indonesia
Continuing the baseline survey documentation begun with the Hearst Philippines Expedition, Academy scientists Dr. Terry Gosliner and Dr. John McCosker undertook reconnaissance visits to Raja Ampat, laying the groundwork for a future, multidisciplinary research project. The oceanic area of the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia is known as the "Coral Triangle"-an area with the highest diversity of marine life in the world. The Raja Ampat archipelago, part of the West Papua province of Indonesia, is said to be the richest biodiversity hotspot within the Coral Triangle, and scientific knowledge will be key to its conservation.
South Africa, 2011
As members of the South African National Survey of Arachnida (SANSA), Academy scientists and graduate students searched for spiders across South Africa from Cape Town to the Zimbabwe border. They found new species of assassin spiders, sheet and lace web builders, giant goblin spiders and tree trap-door spiders. These data are being used to map the distribution of biodiversity in South Africa, understand the history of biogeography and climate change in Africa, and to study the evolution of predatory behavior in assassin spiders.
Ten years ago, Academy scientist Dr. Brian Fisher created "Ant Course"—a public workshop for biologists, researchers, and students that teaches ant taxonomy and field research techniques. In 2012, the Ant Course was held for the first time in Africa at the Makerere University Biological Field Station, located in the heart of Kibale Forest, Western Uganda.
Recent Expeditions (click on a country below):
- Alaska's Juneau Icefield, 2012
- Brazil, 2012
- Colombia 2012
- Gulf of Guinea
- Hawaii, 2012
- 2014 Philippine Biodiversity Expedition
- Mount Tamalpais, 2012
- Nigeria, 2012
- Raja Ampat, Indonesia
- South Africa, 2011
- Uganda, 2012
In 2014, the Academy began its largest-ever scientific diving expedition, an intensive scientific survey to document the biodiversity of the Verde Island Passage—considered by scientists to be one of the richest marine habitats in the world.
Gulf of Guinea
In a race against time, Academy scientist Dr. Bob Drewes is documenting the biodiversity of the Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe, an island archipelago off the western coast of Africa.
Dr. Brian Fisher's passion for ants has taken him all over the world. Among his projects—creating a 3D photographic database of the world's ant species.
Paleontologist Dr. Peter Roopnarine shares his insights on the science behind this global issue.
Journey to Namibia
Academy scientists Dr. Jack Dumbacher and Dr. Galen Rathbun spent five weeks in the desert of Namibia, tracing the evolutionary trajectory of the elephant shrew. Find out what this little-known animal can tell us about evolution in Africa.