Biodiversity 101

Academy researchers and educators team up to teach the next generation how-- and why--we document biodiversity

Science class is about to get more interesting for students in both California and Costa Rica. By next year, teachers in both areas will have access to an interactive Web site and CD-ROMs that allow students to see more than just the end results of scientific studies. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the multi-media materials will introduce potential scientists to the process of documenting biodiversity by bringing them along - virtually - on a recent research expedition to Costa Rica. In addition to watching scientists at work, students who use the materials will be able to try various research skills themselves, such as conducting a species count or completing classification exercises.

The materials, along with an exhibit kiosk at the Academy, are currently under construction by the Academy's Director of Education, Dr. Meg Burke, and an educator from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, both of whom joined the recent expedition. While scientists from both institutions, as well as from Costa Rica's National Institute of Biodiversity (INBio), documented 50 species of nudibranchs (the slow-moving mollusks commonly called sea slugs), Burke and her counterpart documented a slew of research techniques and processes.

They hope that the finished products will inspire future scientists - and relay the message that documenting and understanding our natural resources is a prerequisite for protecting them.

Examining algae for cryptic nudibranchs.
Photo: Meg Burke
Ángel Valdés, Louise Crowley and Meg Burke returning from a scuba diving trip to document and collect nudibranchs near Isla Ballena. Photo: Leah Melber

The beach at San Pedrillo, Costa Rica. The expedition team spent five days at a nearby campsite, exploring tidepools in the rocky areas at low tide.
Photo: Meg Burke
Costa Rican nudibranch Chromodoris sphoni.
Photo: Terry Gosliner
Map by Colleen Sudekum
Yolanda Camacho and Terry Gosliner examining nudibranch specimens in the field lab at Ballena. Photo: Meg Burke