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Teaming with Life: Section II

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Assess, Monitor, andStudy the Biota and Ecosystems of the United States

"To learn more about wherewe stand in protecting all our biological resources ... and ... to helpthe agricultural and biotechnical industries of our country identify newsources of food, fiber, and medication."

WilliamJ. Clinton, 21 April 1993
"Biological information is themost important information we can discover. ...DNA is like a computer programbut far, far more advanced than any software we've ever created."
Bill Gates,The Road Ahead (1996), p. 228

Ecosystems, whose propertiesdepend on those of the organisms that occur within them, provide the basisfor all human activities everywhere on Earth. Since the invention of agricultureapproximately 10,000 years ago, humans have expanded from hunter-gatherersocieties comprising no more than several million individuals scatteredthroughout the world into the overwhelmingly dominant force on the planet.During the second half of the 20thCentury, human numbers have increased from approximately 2.5 billion tonearly 6 billion people, most of whom share high aspirations for materialwell-being. As a direct result of this growth, however, the characteristicsof the atmosphere have changed substantially, agricultural lands have decreasedby 15 to 20 percent, and a major proportion of the world's forests hasbeen cut without replacement. No wonder that noted conservationist GeorgeSchaller has stated, "We cannot afford another century like this one."

To survive and flourish,humans must learn to make sustainable use of the Earth's living resources.To do so, we must deepen our knowledge of living systems and the organismsthat comprise them. And we must make that knowledge available and employit in constructing a world that will continue to support our societiesand the needs of our children and grandchildren. Societies that masterthis knowledge and use it effectively will have a major competitive advantage.Understanding and managing ecosystem services, including individual organismsand their genes, will provide the key to sustainability.

In the following pages andsections, we lay out plans for a multifaceted, interdependent program ofresearch and education that we are convinced, if implemented properly,will provide the United States with the knowledge it needs to sustain theNation's prosperity for succeeding generations. Economics research, informaticsresearch and infrastructure, and education are treated in sections threethrough five. The biological portion of this research program is addressedhere, and has three major, intertwined components:

· Expansion of ourknowledge of the biological resources of the Nation,

· Expansion of oursystem of environmental observatories so that we may know how we are impactingthe life support systems of the Earth, and

· Expansion of ourknowledge of the functioning of ecosystems so that we may better managethem.

Any of these three componentscould contribute to the knowledge needed for solving the environmentalproblems that our Nation faces. However, a real solution, and a truly sustainablefuture, can be gained only if the interdependence of the three branchesis recognized and a multifaceted program of research carried out.

Assess the Biotic Resourcesof the United States

Discover and document thebiotic resources of the United States, including species, their geneticdiversity, and their distribution into habitats and ecosystems.  

America is a nation of explorersand catalogers of diversity. Beginning with the request of President ThomasJefferson to the Lewis and Clark expedition to explore the West and searchfor "minerals, soils, climate, peoples, and animals in their diverse kinds,as well as ...the dates at which particular plants put forth or lose theirflowers or leaf, times of appearance of particular birds, reptiles or insects," the Federal government has supported biodiversity research and explorationthat has contributed to the development of our Nation's economy. As needfor sustainability increases, so should support for exploration and researchthat will meet the need. We are in a new age of discovery, equipped withnewly developed tools unimaginable to explorers of the 19th Century, thelast great age of biodiversity discovery in this country. We are also facingunprecedented needs for that discovery. There are willing partners in theprivate and academic sectors, but the Federal government must focus andprovide consistent impetus for the intense discovery effort that is neededas we enter the 21st Century.This should be accomplished by strengthening systematic biology researchprograms, particularly for biodiversity inventory, as described below.

The United States, on thebasis of its proportional representation of relatively well-known groupsof organisms, harbors perhaps 500,000 or more species, or at least 5 percentof the world total. Of these, we have named fewer than 150,000, and evenfor most of those we know very little beyond the names. No wonder the managementof our natural systems seems at present so difficult—without knowledgeof the players, their roles and interactions in ecosystems can hardly bepredicted. A recent study coordinated by the National Center for EcologicalAnalysis and Synthesis found that the factor that most hampers the successof Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs) in preserving and restoring speciesand their habitats is lack of scientific information about the speciesinvolved. When there is scientific information about the species, it iswell employed within the HCPs. The research discussed here will contributeto the body of knowledge needed for this and other purposes.

Research to document America'sspecies more completely is needed if we are to achieve full benefit fromthe economic and other opportunities that will inevitably follow from knowingthe properties and interactions of species. In this discovery process,emphasis should be placed on those groups of organisms that are importantfor managing our habitats and ecosystems, enhancing the sustainable useand economic importance of these ecosystems, improving human health, andmaintaining the productivity, sustainability, and stability of our agriculturallands, forests, streams and lakes, and coastal marine waters. Many organismsof substantial ecological and economic importance are among the least wellknown species in the US—fungi, nematodes (roundworms), mites, insects,and bacteria.

As our knowledge of genomesand genetics of individual organisms increases, it will be increasinglypossible to locate and utilize the genes of individual organisms to improvethe characteristics of other species used in agriculture, forestry, thechemical industry, and other economic enterprises. Knowledge of the natureand occurrence of individual species will provide the basis for such exploration.This program of research will significantly increase the supply of newgenetic material for pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, improveour ability to control harmful invasive species and prevent the demiseof endangered native ones, and provide a scientifically sound baselineof knowledge for monitoring, assessing, and predicting the consequencesof global change.

We suggest embarking on aten-year mission to understand what biodiversity we have, where it is,how it came to be there and how it interacts with its habitats. This discoveryproject should include all kinds of organisms and all types of habitats(terrestrial, freshwater, marine).

There are several ways tosurvey biological diversity, and each has merit. One is to collect allthe members of a particular major category of organisms, such as plants,in a particular geographic area (such as is being done by the Flora ofNorth America project for the US and Canada). Another is to seek out allthe species that belong to a particular group of organisms, such as a familyof beetles, wherever in the world they might occur (as is done by monographictaxonomists). Yet another is to conduct an All Taxa Biological Inventory(ATBI) of a circumscribed region. A project of this sort allows researchersto determine not only the identity and morphological characteristics ofthe organisms but also to accumulate information about their ecologicalinterrelationships. Detailed inventories of small areas, perhaps as littleas a hundred hectares, would reveal much about the interrelationships oforganisms that are fundamental to the functioning of ecosystems. ATBI projectsdealing with larger areas should also be conducted with an eye to establishingbaselines for monitoring ecological changes and gathering information foreducational programs and bioprospecting. An ATBI project in Great SmokyMountains National Park is in the planning stages, and should be supportedas one arm of the effort to document the biodiversity of the United States.

An inventory of the plants,animals, fungi and microorganisms of the US is such a large task that choicesneed to be made to maximize the efficiency of the activity and the utilityof the results. We have deliberated about appropriate choices, and recommendsome groups for intensive initial attention:

• Plants (vascular plants and "bryophytes") are fundamental to thestructure and functioning of ecosystems, and are responsible for much oftheir productivity. Along with approximately 50,000 species of algae worldwideand up to a few hundred species of photosynthetic bacteria, plants arethe only organisms on Earth capable of transforming light energy to chemicalbonds in the process of photosynthesis, which ultimately is the basis ofall life. Plants are relatively well known, with perhaps 90 percent ofthe estimated 260,000 species (worldwide) having been discovered. Becausethey are key elements in agriculture, forestry, and other productive systems,and because it is critical to make wiser use of them in the course of achievingsustainable development, plants should be explored in depth throughoutthe world and conserved to the extent possible. The Flora of North Americaproject is providing the first complete synthesis of the estimated 20,000species of plants in the United States and Canada, which will provide anindispensable basis for improved management, conservation, and use of ourplant resources. It should be supported on an ongoing basis.

• Fungi, along with bacteria,are the decomposers of the biosphere and play a role indispensable to thecontinued existence of life on Earth by breaking down the organic materialsaccumulated by photosynthetic organisms. Fungi growing in symbiotic relationshipswith the roots of most kinds of plants (mycorrhizae), including all ofthe tree species native to the US, are indispensable to the healthy growthof those plants. Other fungi, such as lichens, harboring cyanobacteriaor green algae, are major contributors to the biological productivity ofmany natural communities and to the input of nitrogen in these areas. Fungiare also major disease-causing organisms of plants and animals, includingdomesticated crops and livestock, and cause serious economic impacts bydestroying organic materials such as wood, paper, stored food, and thelike. Fungi also play a central role in many industrial processes, includingbaking and brewing. And, more than 3,000 antibiotics have been patentedfrom fungi and bacteria. Despite their overwhelming economic and ecologicalimportance, little attention is being paid to fungi on a broad scale, andonly about 20,000 species of an estimated total of perhaps 115,000 in theUS (70,000 of an estimated 1.5 million worldwide) have been discovered.Because of their significance and the fact that perhaps only a small fractionof the species in the US have been discovered, we recommend strongly thatfungi be targeted for intensive inventory effort.

• Bacteria — The fundamentalimportance of bacteria in every living system on Earth is beyond question.They are also important as disease-causing organisms. Nonetheless, ourefforts to date to learn about bacteria have been inadequate. Only about3,000 species of bacteria have been characterized and named by being grownin culture and studied in detail, as required by current laws of namingthem. However, the use of DNA sequencing methods to detect individual speciesregularly reveals the presence of 5,000 or more species, almost all unknown,in a single gram of soil. Bacteria exhibit metabolic diversity far greaterthan that of any other group of organisms, and occur in extreme habitatssuch as deep in the soil, under vast ice caps, in near-boiling hot springs,and in highly saline environments where no other known life forms can survive.The genes and enzymes that make these modes of existence possible havean obvious and direct commercial importance (see Box 7). Perhaps fewerthan one in a hundred species of bacteria can be cultured using currentlyavailable techniques, but an improved inventory would lead to the discoveryof many species of bacteria with properties that are economically useful(including novel genes) or ecologically significant.

• Insects and Other Arthropods—

Hymenoptera—Bees, wasps,and ants are among the most beneficial insects. Bees are the foremost insectpollinators of flowering plants. Wasps are important parasites in naturalsystems and are essential biocontrol agents for pests such as the gypsymoth, worms, flies, and scales that attack food crops and forest ecosystems.Ants play a major role in terrestrial ecosystems by influencing soil fertilityand acting as predators and decomposers. About 17,500 species have beencharacterized in the United States, with thousands more awaiting discovery.Increased knowledge of the estimated 36,000 US species will significantlyimprove our ability to manage agricultural ecosystems.

Hemiptera—As many as a thirdof the true bugs found in the United States have yet to be discovered anddescribed. This is an important gap in our knowledge of the insect faunabecause true bugs are major plant pests of forest ecosystems, corn, rice,soybeans, fruit trees, and numerous horticultural crops and ornamentals.They are also the source of dyes and lacquers, and are of potential importancefor new biotechnology products. Further, some have been used in weed andinsect biocontrol.

Coleoptera—Beetles are themost diverse of all groups of insects (a conservative estimate is 25,000species known from the US, with another 7,000 undescribed), and thus arecritical components of all terrestrial ecosystems. Beetles are also economicallyimportant. In the United States, bark beetles are the most economicallydevastating forest insect pests, causing the annual loss of well over 8billion board feet of standing timber worth about $2 billion. Another groupof beetles, the weevils, is highly diverse (over 2,600 are known, but hundredsof additional species remain to be discovered and described for North Americanorth of Mexico). They are pests of fruit, ornamentals, and field crops,and effective control programs will require much more taxonomic knowledgeof the group. Some other beetles, in contrast, are beneficial, yet we haveinsufficient understanding of their diversity. Among the estimated 3,200or so US species of rove beetles, for example, are numerous species withpotential biocontrol importance.

Lepidoptera (butterfliesand moths) are among the most widely appreciated insects, yet most speciesare small and nondescript, and the majority of these have not been discoveredor described. Many moths are agricultural pests. As noted above, butterfliesare useful index organisms for understanding the fate and function of naturalcommunities. Yet even in these economically and ecologically importantgroups, our understanding of their diversity remains incomplete: thereare about 14,000 US species, with up to an estimated 3,000 remaining tobe described.

Aphids are well known tothe public as pests of plants and cause millions if not billions of dollarsof damage each year. They also serve as important vectors of a wide diversityof plant diseases. They are diverse, but about 66% of the fauna is undescribed.

Gall midges are cryptic littleflies that form galls on various parts of crop plants; an example is theHessian fly, which is a major pest of wheat. Gall midges are very diversebut about 80% of the species are undescribed. It is highly probable thatmany species could be used as indicators of the status of various naturalecosystems.

Spiders have a high profilebecause they are encountered by the public on a daily basis, a few aremedically important, and they are one of the most abundant and influentialcomponents of agricultural ecosystems, thanks to the fact that they preyon many different kinds of insects. They are diverse, but about 20% ofthe fauna remains undescribed.

• Soil and Sediment Microorganisms—

Soils and sediments are acritically dynamic center of global ecosystem processes. Microorganismscontrol many soil and sediment functions including, among others, nutrientcycling, formation and decomposition of organic matter, transport and degradationof pollutants, and provision of clean water. Knowledge of soil organismsand their contributions to ecological processes is essential if we areto maintain and manage ecosystems properly and secure the Nation's foodsupply. Yet, soil and sediment microorganisms (bacteria, protozoa, annelids,nematodes, oligochaetes, polychaetes, termites, ants, mites, fungi, andothers) are severely understudied. One group that is particularly poorlyknown is the nematode worms. There are approximately 20,000 named species,but conservative estimates place the actual number closer to one million.Likewise, mites (including chiggers and ticks) have a high profile becausethey are important plant pests and are vectors of diseases. Yet, with fewerthan 40,000 mite species discovered and described, it is estimated thatthe global total may approach 1 million species.

• Marine Invertebrates—

The marine biota is verypoorly known compared to the terrestrial biota. An increase in our understandingof the components of marine ecosystems will be essential if these systemsare to be saved. There is a need to explore and improve the taxonomy ofvirtually all groups of marine invertebrates. This is fundamentally importantbecause of the vital contribution invertebrate animals make to all marinecommunities. In addition, the widespread introduction of many species ofmarine invertebrates throughout the world is having an important negativeimpact on fisheries and other industries. An improved understanding ofthese introduced organisms is fundamental to managing them properly. Sucha program, however, presupposes that the basic taxonomy of these groupsexists. It does not.


Biological Surveys

These surveys will require coordinationof concerned governmental agencies at Federal, state, and local levels;museums, universities, and other institutions that contain systematicscollections; and other stakeholders. This partnership would appropriatelybe led by the Department of Interior's US Geological Survey BiologicalResources Division (USGS/BRD) and the Department of Commerce's NationalMarine Fisheries Service (NMFS), which is part of the National Oceanicand Atmospheric Administration. The survey should be funded through theUSGS/BRD; NMFS; the Divisions of Environmental Biology, and Molecular andCellular Biology, of the National Science Foundation (NSF); and the Departmentof Agriculture, particularly its Agricultural Research Service. The SmithsonianInstitutions' National Museum of Natural History would logically play amajor role in an invigorated national biological survey, as would manyother public and private organizations. In this mix, universities havea unique importance because of their educational role. Collectively, thetaxonomic and systematic activities of these agencies and organizationsare funded at approximately $55 million per year. Over a period of threeyears, this level of support should be raised to at least $88 million peryear, and maintained against inflation thereafter. Other organizationaland programmatic aspects of this program of discovery-oriented researchand the partnership that would support and guide it are described in greaterdepth in the National Research Council's report, "A Biological Survey forthe Nation."

As this ten-year effort continues,it must be evaluated and fine-tuned, based on the ecological and systematicinsights obtained. The knowledge will contribute to the formulation ofplans for sustainable development. The research will also produce new understandingof the roles of species within ecosystems, and new products, includinggenetic material for the agricultural and pharmaceutical industries. Inshort, the U.S. must organize an effort to understand its own biodiversityand ecosystems, a substantial source of national wealth, that equals thescale and intensity of similar efforts that have been underway for someyears in countries such as Costa Rica (INBio) and Mexico (CONABIO). Justas these efforts have produced benefits for their countries, so a similarproject in the United States will yield direct, measurable benefits forAmericans.

Benefits derived from thisprogram of research would include:  

• Sustainable agriculture.Throughout the world, advanced agricultural systems are in the processof reducing the amount of pesticide, fertilizer, and herbicide usage byemphasizing practices such as biological control, integrated pest management,and sustainable agriculture. These technologies rely heavily on our knowledgeof pest groups, their plant hosts, and the natural enemies that keep themin check. Taxonomic information is the language and predictive basis forthis enlightened agricultural management and improvement. We can expect,for example, that thousands of potentially useful biological control agentsexist that are currently unknown to science. Before they can be economicallyuseful, however, these organisms must be discovered, described, and integratedinto classification and information systems. If organisms that can enhanceproductive and environmentally sound agroecosystems remain unknown or confusedwith other organisms, progress in agriculture will be hindered. In addition,the search for new crops, and the improvement of existing crops throughbiotechnology, depend on the exploration and understanding of biodiversityin the United States and beyond.

• Human health. Protectionof human health depends in part upon documentation of disease-causing organismsand disease vectors. Even the most innocuous bacterium or virus can belife-threatening to persons who become immunocompromised by diseases suchas AIDS or by drug therapies for cancer, burns or transplants. Many diseasesare undergoing a resurgence (example: tuberculosis) because they are evolvingdrug resistance. Other, previously unknown diseases are emerging. The processof discovering, describing, and understanding disease-causing agents isessential for developing new antibiotics and vaccines, as well as protocolsfor better sanitation and diet aimed at maintaining and improving humanhealth.

• New pharmaceuticals. Drugsderived from the world's species save countless lives and generate manybillions of dollars in sales worldwide. Most of the species within thosegroups of organisms that have the greatest potential to provide new sourcesof medicines have yet to be discovered or described. For example, bacteriaare diverse and constitute a major source of new pharmaceuticals and otherbiotechnology products. The better their diversity, and that of many othergroups of organisms, is understood, the more likely it is that we willdiscover useful genes and gene products, and their functioning and interactions.

• Resource management. Productsderived from the fisheries industry provide a primary source of high-qualityprotein for many people. Differentiating among species of fish and othercommercial seafood is of obvious importance for managing these naturalresources and selecting species for aquaculture. Invasive species are amajor problem within marine ecosystems and threaten to disrupt some ofthe Nation's most productive fishing grounds such as the Gulf of Mexico;these species also need to be identified and understood.

• Biotechnology. Our rapidlygrowing knowledge of the relationship between genes and an organism's chemicaland physical characteristics is the key to many vital advances in the future.In particular, our newfound ability to transfer genes between distantlyrelated species of organisms will play an increasingly important role inthe improved biological productivity of the future. Transgenic organismswill become increasingly important as components of agricultural, health,pharmaceutical, and resource management activities. For example, it ispossible in principle to alter the nutritional value of crop plants accordingto the specific health needs of particular individuals or groups of individuals,or to intensify integrated pest management with the introduction of readily-producedtransgenic organisms. Taxonomic knowledge of organisms will serve as theroute map in our search for appropriate genes to produce desired characteristics.

Economic losses suffered bythe United States every year because of lack of species knowledge includebut are not limited to:
 • Loss of AgriculturalProductivity.• The Office of TechnologyAssessment estimated in 1993 that the Nation spends $3.6 to 5.4 billionannually to mitigate the effects of invasive species. Without knowledgeof those species, a predictive long-term control program is more difficultand costly.

• Fungal and insect damageto agricultural crops in the US costs more than $7 billion annually. Thelack of accurate descriptions and identification of these pests greatlyhinders the discovery of natural biological control agents.

• The US annually importsbillions of dollars worth of agricultural commodities; with these may comeexotic pests and pathogens that damage domestic production. Taxonomic studiesof these organisms are essential for controlling them.

Soil Function and Depletion.Soils act as living systems whose properties are determined by interactionsamong the fungi, bacteria, and other small organisms that occur withinthem. These organisms also form symbiotic relationships with the rootsof plants, enhancing plant productivity. Although soil organisms providemany obvious benefits to agriculture, water quality, and ecosystem resilience,the identity and function of those organisms is very poorly understood.This understanding is needed to improve management of agricultural andother ecosystems.

Loss of Timber to ForestPests. Insect and fungal pathogens, of which bark beetles and theirmutualistic fungi are the most economically important, cause domestic economiclosses of timber more than 8 billion board feet, estimated at $2 billionannually. Many of these organisms remain uncharacterized.

Increase the workforce capableof carrying out these tasks by creating jobs in both the public and privatesectors, and by supporting trainingand education of taxonomists.

Numerous national and internationalorganizations, including the United States National Science Board, theNational Academy of Sciences, and the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technologicaland Technical Advice to the Conference of Parties of the Convention onBiological Diversity, have recognized the urgent need for taxonomists withexpertise in organismal groups other than large vertebrates. Evidence forthis need includes:

the importance of biodiversityand ecosystems to human life,

current understanding ofhow little we know about biodiversity,

a species extinction rateestimated to be some 10,000 times greater than the normal rate across geologicaltime,

mismatch between the numbersof species in a group and the number of taxonomists trained to work onthat group, and

the diminished employmentopportunities for taxonomists and systematists compared to previous decades,particularly in universities.

The numbers of trained taxonomistsand systematists who have jobs devoted to the great task of mapping thediversity of life locally or globally is woefully inadequate to the task.This is true particularly for specialists who focus on organisms such asfungi, bacteria, nematodes, mites, and many groups of insects. Nevertheless,knowledge of these organisms, because of their ecological and economicroles, is of critical importance to the US and world economies. A sustaineddedication to the establishment and maintenance of adequately paid jobsavailable to experts on such groups of organisms will facilitate commercially-importantprogress in agriculture, health, and biotechnology.

New employment lines (FTEs)for taxonomists and systematists of United States biota should be addedto the systematics laboratories of the Agricultural Research Service, andin other agencies that are stewards of the country's natural capital (particularlythe Department of Agriculture's Forest and Natural Resource ConservationServices, the Department of Interior ‘s Bureau of Land Management and NationalPark and Fish and Wildlife Services, and the Department of Commerce's NationalMarine Fisheries Service). The taxonomists that are already on staff andthose that should be hired could all be more productive if each were providedwith a technician. These positions, at GS-5 level, would represent a verymodest investment in the greater productivity of highly trained Ph.D. scientists(usually GS-13 or higher). In recent years, positions for support staffhave eroded so much that GS-15s are now forced to spend time on GS-5 levelwork rather than their own. This is a clear misuse of training, talent,and salaries, and should be rectified as rapidly as possible.

In addition, support fornatural history institutions (museums, herbaria, arboreta, botanical gardens)of the Nation should be bolstered so that they also can add staff positions(see next section). The existence of these jobs will entice many more brightyoung people into systematics than are currently entering the field. Manystudents are interested in the discipline, and do well in courses in taxonomyin college, but ultimately turn to other majors because they do not perceivean employment future in systematics.

Moreover, we need to fosterpartnerships between taxonomists, ecosystem ecologists, and applied biologistsbecause of the contribution that taxonomists can make to the discoveryof organisms that may help to solve agricultural, medicinal, and environmentalproblems. This could be done, for instance, by awarding career credit (promotion,pay increases, etc.) to the participants in such collaborations.

The Partnerships for EnhancingExpertise in Taxonomy (PEET) program of the National Science Foundation'sDivision of Environmental Biology has gained worldwide recognition as avisionary effort to redress the "taxonomic impediment" that has been perceivedby the governments of almost every other nation on Earth. To provide trainingthat results in scientific expertise in taxonomy, systematic biology andcollections management, the United States should increase and sustain itsinvestment in this program.

The total investment in PEETto date (3/98) has been $10 million, for the funding of 31 research projectsthat are each training at least two new taxonomists (in some cases threeor four). As impressive as these numbers are, much more needs to be done.We recommend that the PEET competition for funding be conducted every yearrather than every other year, and that the awards total $10 million peryear, beginning with the next NSF funding cycle and continuing for at leastten years. At present, only the NSF is funding the PEET program. We recommendparticipation and contribution to the funding by all of the Federal agenciesthat have biodiversity management responsibilities. The NSF should retainthe lead in proposal review. The measure of success will be a workforceof taxonomists engaged in discovering biodiversity and the economic benefitsthat can be derived from it.

By hiring professionals todo systematics and surveys, and by consistently supporting the PEET initiative,the United States will begin to build the body of trained personnel neededto help provide the scientific basis for managing our biodiversity resources.We cannot understand ecosystems, or their productivity and functioning,if we do not even know the identities of the organisms that live in them.

Lack of taxonomic expertisealso leads, for example, to missed opportunities to capitalize on understandingthe characteristics of close relatives of newly discovered organisms, andto learn more about the mechanisms by which organisms defend themselves,adapt to changing conditions, and maintain their integrity in the faceof environmental challenges. Such knowledge of other organisms could easilyand immediately become critical to our own survival and well-being.

Expand the capacity ofthe nation's biodiversity research collections of all types (extractedgenetic, living, and preserved), and support the electronic captureand distribution of the information associated with their specimens.

The natural history collectionsof the United States (found in natural history museums, herbaria, universityfacilities, and in governmental agencies such as the Department of Agricultureand Department of the Interior) contain at least three-quarters of a billionspecimens of plants, animals, fungi, and microorganisms. These collectionsdocument the existence of species now extinct, allow us to track expansionof the ranges of invasive species, and make it possible to answer all mannerof other questions about species and organisms. The specialized librariesand databases associated with these collections comprise a record of thehistory of the Nation's natural capital. Systematic collections of livingorganisms are maintained in aviaries, aquaria, arboreta, botanical gardens,seed banks, and zoos or in specialized repositories of germplasm, frozentissues, and cultures of microorganisms (see Box 7).

Collections are essentialresources for many areas of applied biology, including the health sciences(parasitology, epidemiology, diagnostics), agriculture, resource management,and biotechnology. Studies of specimens preserved in collections, for example,were central to documenting the presence of DDT in the environment andthe historical pattern of mercury contamination in the Nation's rivers.Collections also provide extensive support for informal and formal educationprograms, as well as professional development for K-12 teachers. Throughexhibits, collections provide entertainment and promote public awarenessof nature and biodiversity.

The research program to inventorythe biota of the US will generate many specimens that must be placed incollections as a record of our discoveries. These specimens will be a baselineagainst which to measure and monitor environmental change, and serve manyother functions in scientific research. However, US systematic collectionsare underfunded, and are highly challenged to properly care for the specimensthey already have, much less to absorb those that will result from thebiotic survey that must be done.

Moreover, the vast majorityof the information about our natural resources that is already containedin natural history collections and their libraries is not readily accessibleonline in databases and Web pages. To meet societal needs, this informationmust be made available as part of the National Biological Information Infrastructure.

Biodiversity research collectionshave immediate and pressing needs for:

expansion and upgradeof the infrastructure for collections (new space and equipment), and

trained people to bringcollections data online and care for the specimens that voucher those data.

These needs must be addressedas a part of the research program to search out new species.

Current funding for federallysupported collections (those of the Agricultural Research Service, theNational Park Service, and the National Natural History Museum of the SmithsonianInstitution) totals approximately $5 million per year, and Federal grantfunds for collections managed by other institutions total approximately$14 million per year (from the National Science Foundation's Research Collectionsand Living Stocks programs in the Division of Biological Infrastructure,and the Institute for Museum and Library Services). Over the next threeyears, these amounts should be raised by at least 70%, and maintained againstinflation thereafter.

The benefits of supportingand strengthening the nation's biodiversity research collections will bemeasured by the benefits gained from a more thorough knowledge and recordof the actual biotic resources (genes, gene products, and species) thatform America's living capital, and by a significant increase in the biodiversityinformation content of the NBII. In addition, having the data from theNation's collections in electronic format will facilitate a rapid tallyof what is known and is not known and what localities have and have notbeen explored for their biodiversity. This will help prevent duplicationof research effort and facilitate focusing attention on sites that areeither completely unknown or likely to host significant diversity.

These increases in fundingfor biodiversity research collections infrastructure will ensure that thecollections will be available to contribute to our understanding of thenation's natural resources and therefore to our continued economic prosperity.Improvement in collections care is a continuous process, because collectionsmust be maintained indefinitely. Enhancing the infrastructure, with substantialinvestments over the next several years, will be a necessary ingredientfor achieving the economic objectives outlined in this report.

Measure the Statusof the United States' Biotic Communities and Ecosystems

Continue interagency participationin and support for the Environmental Monitoring and Research Initiative,especially in promoting public - private partnerships.

A certain level of interagencycoordination in management of biodiversity and ecosystems by the Federalgovernment has been achieved through the Committee on Environment and NaturalResources (CENR) of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC).This coordinated effort has focused on the Environmental Monitoring andResearch Initiative and the call for an "Environmental Report Card" onthe status of the Nation's ecosystems. The Report Card promises to makepossible better application of both new and currently available knowledgeto a wide variety of management decisions at Federal, state, and locallevels. By involving academia, the private sector, and agencies of stateand local governments, this effort will help us devise the most suitablesolutions to environmental problems. The Report Card process representsan important model for national decision-making, and we recommend stronglythat public-private partnerships such as those formed during the ReportCard process be pursued actively and consistently.

The data that will be usedin the Report Card on the status of ecosystems, and the research that willelucidate ecosystem trends, will come from three tiers of data collection.The first of these tiers is remote sensing (such as by Landsat); the secondis systematic, national on-the-ground sampling; and the third is a systemof index sites at which cause-effect relationships can be examined throughexperimentation and monitoring. The Federal government has the strongestneed to develop and synthesize a national picture, but there are many excellentopportunities for public-private partnerships in the process. To maximizethe usefulness of the results of these activities, they must be coordinatedwhile remaining distributed across the country.

The CENR can and should functionas the coordinating body that keeps agencies working together and cooperatingwith other entities. Without this coordination, there will be a tendencyfor agencies to move in separate directions, for the level of communicationbetween agencies and academia or between agency researchers and managersto decline, and for the critical mass of scientists needed to advance ecosystemmanagement research to disperse. As a result, management actions mightbecome less coherent than they are today.

The Administration will needto ensure that all of the agencies under the aegis of the CENR invest thetime and expertise of appropriate personnel in the Environmental Researchand Monitoring Initiative so that an environmental baseline (the initialReport Card), against which changes and trends can be compared, can beestablished as rapidly as possible. The lifetime of the "initiative" shouldonly be long enough to establish the processes by which environmental researchand monitoring should be conducted on a constant and continuing basis,and at that time it should become the Environmental Research and MonitoringProcess (or Project) and have no "sunset" on the horizon. The need forthe process will be unending, as will the need for the cooperation of manyagencies and entities in the conduct of the process. There should be aself-evaluation component to the process that will constantly improve theoutput.

Evaluate existing ecologicalobserving systems, and identify and implement any needed improvements.

A prototype Report Card willbe developed by the spring of 1999, and will cover three major ecosystemtypes (forest, crop lands, and coastal/marine). The first complete ReportCard, in 2001, will be expanded to include rangeland, fresh water, andurban ecosystems. For each ecosystem type, the status of goods, servicesand other valued attributes (e.g., extent, productivity, ecosystem condition,recreation and aesthetics) will be compiled. The Report Card will providea summary of the status and trends of our Nation's ecosystems that is easilyaccessible to the general public and firmly based on the sorts of scientificinformation used by researchers and resource managers.

To be able to proceed fromthe current status report and investigate trends and directions of ecosystemchange, researchers will need data that are appropriate to the kinds ofquestions they will be asking, taken on a scale appropriate to the sizeof the ecological region and/or the dimensions of the ecological processbeing considered. For instance, the sorts of data needed to investigatethe relationship between ecosystem structure and biogeochemical cyclingdiffer in scale and type from those needed to study the relationship betweenbiological community functions and species-level biodiversity. To enlightenmanagement practice, data amenable to research at all scales will be required.

The data on which the firstReport Card will be based have been collected by a number of agencies,for a number of purposes, using several different methods. It may be thatthe same kinds of data are being collected by more than one agency (unnecessaryduplication of effort), or that the data being collected are inadequateto the tasks for which they are needed, or that data on one environmentalparameter cannot be combined with or compared to data on another environmentalparameter for any one of a variety of reasons (different data structures,scales of measurement, region of coverage, times at which the data werecollected, etc.), or that there are flaws in the systems that accumulatedata from a variety of sources.

Once the Report Card processhas identified what kinds of data we do have, it can be used to elucidatethe information that we need but are not at present collecting. Or, itmay demonstrate that data collected for another purpose may in fact betaken "off the shelf" and put to new uses. The utility of the data we arecurrently collecting should be evaluated, and means of improving and streamliningdata capture should be devised and tested. This evaluation of the qualityof the data and the outputs of data-collection activities should be conductedon a regional basis. A pilot evaluation project of this type is currentlyunderway in the Federal Mid-Atlantic region.

Certain outcomes of theseregional evaluations can be predicted with reasonable certainty. For instance,the current land-cover map of the US generated using remote sensing isat a scale (1 km) that is acceptable for low-resolution landscape analysesbut is not meaningful for many biological studies. The 30-meter land-coverdata set, generated from Landsat data and processed for Federal regionsusing a consistent protocol by the Multi-Resolution Land Characterization(MRLC) consortium of Federal agencies, will be much more useful in biodiversityand ecosystem studies. The MRLC consortium plans to produce from this dataseta 30-m resolution land-cover map of the conterminous US. The planned completiondate is the year 2000. This Panel recommends that efforts be concentratedon completing this map on time or ahead of schedule.

Another outcome of the evaluationswill very likely be the recognition that the degree of integration amongthe three tiers of data collection (remote sensing, systematic sampling,and indexing) is insufficient. Effort must be invested in making it possible,for instance, to address a question such as "what is the relationship betweenthe ecosystem size needed to maintain biogeochemical integrity and thesize needed to maintain the naturally occurring species diversity of thatecosystem?" Such a question requires that data from all three tiers becompiled and validated, the correlations among them identified, and analysesperformed. Grappling with this type of question will be easier as coordinationof data collection and information management methods are improved. Thiscoordination will be challenging to achieve, but the effort must be madein order to enable the kinds of analyses of multiple factors that are requiredto develop sustainable management strategies.

An ongoing evaluation processthat points out means of improving the effectiveness of data will raisethe quality of the research that depends on those data, and this in turnwill improve the ecosystem management strategies that are based on thatresearch. In its role as coordinator of the nation's environmental researchand monitoring effort, the Federal government should be vigilant that itsagencies are consistently evaluating, validating, upgrading their data-gatheringand environmental observation activities on the basis of those evaluations,and ensuring that they are relevant and useful to research, policy, andmanagement decisions by government and by citizens.

Expand the nation's systemof "environmental observatories" and bolster the research and modelingthat are conducted at these sites.

In order to answer the sortsof societally and economically important questions exemplified in the Introductionto this report, we will need a great deal of experimental and syntheticecological and ecosystem research. This research should address:

fundamental questionsabout the effects of land use and management practices, patterns, and intensitieson biodiversity and on the sustainability and stability of both ecosystemprocesses and biodiversity;

the amounts and kinds ofbiodiversity needed to sustain the services provided to humanity by bothnatural and managed ecosystems;

the amounts, sizes, andgeographic distributions of reserves required to preserve the criticallevels and compositions of biodiversity needed to sustain functioning ofecosystems;

the factors that influencethe assembly of ecological communities and ecosystems, including thosethat control invasions by exotic species and the impacts of such invasionson ecosystem processes and biodiversity.

There are several componentsof ecosystems that must be accounted for in this research, including:Chemical cycles:Organisms are a dominant factor in chemical element cycling and storageand therefore regulate many aspects of global processes; yet, these cyclesremain insufficiently understood. For instance, different forms of nitrogen,and apparently the chemical transitions between these forms, affect bothorganisms and water quality differently. Very little is known about theunderlying processes that make this so.

Community characteristics:Basic information on the number and distribution of species is limited,as is our understanding of the connection between species and the factorsthat enable species to become established, thrive or decline.

Spatial structure and temporalchange: Relationships between biological communities and the physicalstructural elements of the environment, their evolution over time, andtheir relationship to diversity are insufficiently understood.

Scaling: Processresearch has generally been limited to small areas. Management-scale experimentshave been limited and extrapolation may not be simple; conversely, presentmodeling efforts often cannot be brought down to the scale of decisionsabout specific locations.

In addition, increasingly sophisticated modelingparadigms and algorithms will be important tools, not only for the conductof the theoretical research to understand our living resources, but alsofor translating the research results into useful and usable tools for ecosystemmanagement. In current practice, geographic information systems (GIS) areoften used to integrate data and aid in decision making based on what iscurrently known. What is needed in addition to GIS are predictive modelsbased on understanding of process that are capable of incorporating variousland use and management strategies. Such models should reflect fundamentalecological principles, including natural variability and the non-steady-statenature of disturbed as well as non-disturbed ecosystems. The software forthese modeling exercises should be accessible through the "next generation"National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII-2) that is describedin the next Section of this Report.

To make these advances possible, it willbe necessary to expand support for ecological and ecosystem research inacademic and other institutions. It will also be necessary to increasethe size of the nation's system of permanent research sites at which theenvironment is observed; experimental, comparative and synthetic researchis conducted; and predictive models are generated and tested. The LongTerm Ecological Research network of sites, currently incorporating 20 researchareas, should be increased to more thoroughly cover the range of America'secosystems (especially important to add are the full range of marine ecosystemsfrom coral reefs and major fisheries to the open oceans). Additional areas,for example national parks or Man and the Biosphere reserves, should beestablished as centers for the types of research described here. The natureof this research will also require an increase in the number of monitoringand research sites maintained by agencies such as the EPA, NOAA, the Departmentof Energy, the US Forest Service, and the USGS/BRD. Also, assurance ofaccess for researchers to Mission to Planet Earth and Landsat data anddata processing are important to this effort. A number of agencies alreadyhave a stake in the support facilities needed for this research, includingNOAA, the Forest Service, the USGS, the EPA, the Department of Energy,and the NSF. Current investments (approximately $300 million per year,spread across the several listed agencies) should be enhanced by approximately$55 million per year in order to increase the return on this investment,with the greatest additions made to programs that use rigorous peer review.Infrastructure capacity and performance by Federal agencies that alreadyhave research and monitoring sites in place should be increased immediately;the remainder of the increases should be accomplished within three to fiveyears.

Clearly, the manner in which America'sliving capital is currently being managed and used is not sustainable.The research strengths of all Federal agencies, academia, and the privatesector should be mobilized as rapidly as possible to protect the ecosystemsthat generate goods and services while providing the benefits of thosegoods and services to the American public. The urgency of the need to bringthe economy and the environment into a sustainable relationship (see Introductionand Section 3) compels urgency in this research agenda as well. Many researchersmust be engaged as rapidly as possible in order to meet the challenge,and therefore a significant investment is required. However, the investmentwill be well justified if we gain an ability to shift toward sustainablemanagement of America's living capital.

Augment the Scientific Basisfor Ecosystem Management

Conduct a concerted programof research, designed to discover fundamental principles, on the functioning,structure, and sustainability of natural and managed ecosystems.

The ongoing discovery andmonitoring of pattern, and the correlation of pattern and process, havealready provided us with a certain level of understanding of the structureof ecological systems. However, our current understanding is inadequatefor predicting the long-term costs and benefits to society that may beassociated with alternative ecosystem management practices or environmentalpolicies. The stated goals of the annual performance plan (required bythe Government Performance and Results Act) of the Bureau of Land Managementinclude "restore and maintain the health of the land"; those of the NationalPark Service include "natural resources...are protected, restored and maintained...";and those of the Forest Service include "restore and protect ecosystems."Restoration implies an understanding of appropriate manipulations—and yetif we do not have the results of the research described in this section,the non-linear surprises of ecosystems will confound any manipulationsthat we institute. These agencies and others will not achieve their performancegoals, and the Nation will not benefit from the improvement in ecosystemgoods and services that is implied in their goal statements.

At the present time, it isdifficult to clearly identify an optimal management practice. This is becausethe relationships between structure and function and those between causeand effect are not yet fully understood in either the temporal or geospatialdimensions of ecosystems. These relationships are non-linear, and thereforefull of surprises. Or, to put it in the words of the author G. Harry Stine,"You can't fool mother nature (but she can fool you)."

If we are to gain fundamentalinsights that will enable clearer decisions among alternatives, new researchmust be conducted to show us the ecosystem parameters needed to maintainbiogeochemical integrity, those required for the maintenance of speciesdiversity, and the relationship between these two sets of parameters. Wealso need to know what processes control the functioning of natural andmanaged ecosystems and influence the assembly of ecological communitiesand ecosystems, which factors promote or repel invasions by exotic species,and what impacts species invasions and extinctions (separately or in combination)have on ecosystem processes.

Case studies of how ecosystemsare being managed, or of the suite of ecological research projects thatare being conducted in various regions of the country, show that both managementand research tend to differ among ecosystems. Ecologists working in oneecosystem have tended to focus on one set of questions while those workingin another ecosystem have focused on another. Ecosystem management effortsare hampered by lack of knowledge of the broad framework of the fundamentalorganizing principles of ecosystem function and ecological process. Thereis a critical need for research directed at discovering a framework offundamental ecological principles and at testing the utility of that framework.

The Federal government isitself the steward of fully one-quarter of the nation's natural capital(as measured in land area). Often, the decisions made about the managementof one ecosystem differ from those made about another (even within a singleagency), in part because of the absence of an an objective, accessibleknowledge base and a common understanding of fundamental principles. Therefore,this Panel calls for a concerted effort to enable both intramural and extramuralexperimental and theoretical research. Research results from studies ofthe kind described here would 1) facilitate more consistent decision-makingand the attendant efficiencies of scale, and 2) lead to better means ofimproving the status of perturbed ecosystems.

Theoretical research is essentialin order to make proper use of all the data that are collected by empiricalresearch and monitoring efforts. Theoretical science involves the formulationand testing, against real data, of hypotheses, some of which may turn outto be general principles. It also involves construction and study of modelsand simulations. Sometimes these models and simulations are relativelysimple, abstract ones exemplified by a few mathematical equations. Thesemay share only a few critically important features with real systems. Or,models may be complicated ones that contain a great many characteristicsof real systems. The former often have the virtue of transparency, makingit fairly easy to see why certain fundamental principles apply both withinthe model and within the real world. The latter, while usually less transparent,may be more suitable for direct comparison with actual data.

The principles to be elucidatedin the course of theoretical research on ecosystems will relate, for example,to:

interactions among differentkinds of organisms,

the collective propertiesthat emerge from those interactions,

relations among differentspatial and temporal scales, and/or

the reaction of the systemto various external influences—including human activities.

Also, there is need for theoreticalresearch that speaks to the whole "pure to applied" spectrum of science.

In addition, interdisciplinarycomparisons—for instance with the structure and function of human organizationsand institutions (such as the market economy, or the interdependenciesof individual, family, community, and society)—are very likely to be highlyvaluable in the development of understandable and usable ecological andecosystems theory.

The vast stores of data accumulatedby all the ecological and ecosystems research that has been conducted todate is available now for use in the sorts of analyses requiredby this research. The country has scientists highly qualified to do theresearch, both within the government and in the private sector, includingacademia. Synthetic research must become a priority. What is needed isfocus on and funding for research to achieve the level of understandingdescribed here. The need to begin improving the status of perturbed ecosystemsis immediate. We recommend that appropriate reallocations both of budgetand effort within agencies be implemented within the next budgetary cycle,and that calls for and funding of extramural research be included in theearliest possible proposal cycle of all the agencies. It should be recognizedthat this sort of research is long-term in nature and must be ongoing.The funding allocations and reallocations made to it should minimally befor five years and preferably be indefinite. Milestones for evaluatingthe results of this investment include improvement in predictions of theeffects of ecosystem manipulations, productivity of ecosystems, and thestatus of the habitats that are managed according to the principles thatare discovered by the research.

Develop and provide thecomputational tools needed to synthesize and use all available ecologicaldata to advance scientific understanding and guide policies and decisions.  

All of the data manipulation,hypothesis testing, contingency modeling, and interdisciplinary comparisonsthat are so necessary to the elucidation of principles and theoreticalframeworks discussed here require intensive computation, massive data deliveryacross networks, and advanced analytical algorithms—in short, a thoroughlymature, high-caliber information management environment. The "next generation"NBII, mentioned above and described in the next section, will provide thisenvironment.

In parallel with the developmentof a unifying framework of underlying ecological theory and ecosystem principles,the adaptation of theory for use in management and policy must also occur.Mechanisms for interpreting new data in the light of a body of theory andapplying those interpretations in the solutions to everyday problems mustbe devised and delivered to on-the-ground managers; rationales for high-levelpolicy actions must be generated from accumulations of ecological dataintegrated with other societal concerns. Again, the delivery of easilyunderstood results of theoretical and applied research requires an informaticsenvironment that can provide tools to readily interpret research resultsfor use in the real world. The NBII-2 is needed to provide this environmentas well.

One institution that willbe very much a part of the NBII-2 network of institutions and computersis the newly-established National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesisat the University of California, Santa Barbara. The NCEAS is perfectlysituated to carry out the development of the special software and to conductthe complex analyses required by the theoretical research described above.A failure to fully exploit the capabilities of this facility would representthe loss of an opportunity to capitalize on investments that have alreadybeen made. As pointed out above, government agencies very much need theresults of theoretical ecological and ecosystems research, which in turnneeds a unique sort of informatics infrastructure both for the conductof the research and for the delivery of the results.

The need for theoreticalecosystem research is immediate and ongoing, and the research cannot beconducted without the informatics developments. Therefore, the establishmentin 1996 of the NCEAS, with an initial lifespan of five years, was particularlyfortuitous. The NCEAS should be supported for an additional five years(and probably more) at higher level than it is at present, so that fulladvantage may be taken of the huge body of data that is being assembled.Approximately one-third of its funds should be competitively dispersedto researchers at institutions other than the NCEAS itself, for use indeveloping the software applications that are central to the conduct oftheoretical ecosystem research. This increase in funding should be providedby entities (management agencies and industries, in partnership) that wouldbenefit from the results of the research and the delivery system for thoseresults that will be provided by the NBII-2.

Cover Introduction   SectionI   Section II  Section III   SectionIV   Section V

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