Over the past eight years, the Academy has sent eleven scientific expeditions to Yunnan Province in southwestern China in order to document the region’s stunning biodiversity. While all of the trips have been challenging in their own way, this current trip will be the most complicated by far because of the terrain we are hoping to survey. On our past trips, we have not been able to explore areas higher than 3,800 meters, since the high elevation habitats in this region are very difficult—and often dangerous—to access. On this trip however, with the help of two mountaineers, we are hoping to survey the habitats around a permanent snowfield at an elevation of over 4,000 meters on Mt. Kawa Karpu. These habitats are likely to house a number of species that have never before been documented by scientists. They are also very fragile, so we have decided to split ourselves into two smaller groups and send one group at a time to minimize our impact on the land. If all goes according to plan, the entomologists on our team will hike up the steep slopes of Mt. Kawa Karpu next week, and the botanists will follow them about ten days later.
For over 150 years, the Academy has conducted scientific research around the globe in an effort to discover and document the planet's biodiversity. This work is even more urgent today, given the rising rates of extinction and habitat destruction. Over the past several years, the Academy has been studying the diversity of nudibranchs (commonly called sea slugs) that live along the Costa Rica coastline. During the most recent expedition, a team of scientists and educators from the Academy joined colleagues from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and Costa Rica's Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad to document not only the region's biodiversity, but also the methods used in scientific research. More » | Mas »
Madagascar is an island nation located off the coast of eastern Africa. Because Madagascar has been isolated from other land masses for over 160 million years, it contains an extremely high number of endemic species – plants and animals that cannot be found anywhere else on Earth. Nearly 13,000 species of plants and vertebrate animals are found exclusively on Madagascar, including over 90 percent of the island’s reptiles, amphibians, and mammals. Tragically, less than 10 percent of Madagascar’s original habitat is still intact, and a number of its unique species are at risk. Forty-five animals that recently inhabited the island are now extinct, and nearly 200 others are threatened or endangered. As global extinction and habitat destruction rates rise, this work is becoming increasingly important. More »
South Africa 2005
In addition to birds, this site is home to many large herbivores, including bushbuck, impala, zebra, and wildebeest. A wealth of prey animals species attracts a number wealth of predators, including the caracals in this photograph. These endangered cats, which belong to the lynx family, weigh 25 to 45 pounds and are native to the grasslands of Africa and parts of Asia. Sporting long tufts of fur at the tips of their ears, caracals can funnel sound down into the tall grass in which they live. This "radar" helps them to track small mammals and birds. More »
Galapagos 1905 / 2005
Long heralded by scientists as living laboratories of evolution, the Galápagos Islands straddle the equator about 600 miles west of Ecuador. Remote and mostly uninhabited, their very name invites images of giant tortoises, famous finches, and Charles Darwin’s visit in 1835 upon the HMS Beagle. Not long after that celebrated voyage, the islands became a mecca for Academy scientists, who have been conducting research in the Galápagos laboratory for the past 100 years.
When Academy scientists stepped onto the shores of the Galápagos for the first time in September of 1905, they were awestruck by the unique habitat around them. For over a year, they inventoried everything from plants, fossils, and birds that are now extinct, to the salt-spitting marine iguanas that still bask on coastal rocks. By the time these voyagers returned to San Francisco, the infamous 1906 earthquake and fires had destroyed most of the Academy’s scientific specimens, so the new Galápagos specimens they brought back with them became the core of the Academy’s current research collections. More »
Stretching across the southwest corner of China, Yunnan Province covers a mere five percent of the country's land but contains over 60% of its native biodiversity. Many rare and endangered species have found a last refuge in Yunnan's wide variety of ecosystems, which range from fog-draped mountains and bamboo groves to sun-swept savannah communities. Such species richness has led a team of scientists and conservationists to designate the region as one of the world's 25 biodiversity "hotspots." Unfortunately, membership in this exclusive club is a dubious honor. Hotspots are selected not only for the amount of endemic species they contain (plants and animals that cannot be found anywhere else), but also for the amount of stress they have suffered from habitat loss. Experts estimate that only about 8% of Yunnan's mountainous habitat remains in pristine condition. More »