KU's Natural History Museum part of $12.25 million environmental project

Lawrence,KS (10-10-2002)

From University Relations

Scientists at the University of Kansas Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center will participate in a $12.25 million collaboration to study a number of pressing environmental problems,
officials announced today.

As part of a program funded by the National Science Foundation called SEEK -- the Science Environment for Ecological Knowledge -- KU and consortium scientists across the nation will use Internet and information technology to develop a network that combines biodiversity information on the world's animals and plants with ecosystem, climate and other data. The project will help scientists understand and solve pressing problems -- such as climate change, the spread of invasive species and natural resource planning -- as well as advance basic research in ecology and biodiversity.

Much of the biodiversity information will come from the huge research inventories of animals and plants housed at KU and the world's other natural history museums.

"There can be no better recognition of KU's national and international leadership in this new interdisciplinary and blossoming field called biodiversity informatics," said Leonard Krishtalka, director of the Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center. "Our goal is to have biodiversity research and education serve science and society by informing smart environmental management, for example, in the critical areas of natural resources, invasive species, emerging diseases and climate change."

The SEEK network will allow researchers to find, integrate and analyze environmental data that is now dispersed and stored in too many locations and formats to be readily used in research or education. Examples include plant and animal data from global biodiversity inventories, long-term environmental monitoring data,
experimental ecological data, and climate and geographic data. The project also will develop powerful new computational tools for capturing and analyzing this information in "what-if" predictions.

At KU, the project will be directed by Jim Beach, the museum and research center's assistant director forinformatics, and two other museum and research center scientists -- A. Townsend Peterson, curator of birds, and David A. Vieglais, senior scientist -- along with Susan E. Gauch, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science.

About $3 million of the project's $12.25 million in funding will come to KU, including about $500,000 in matching funds from the Kansas Technology Enterprise Corp. and the KU Center for Research.

"We're delighted with the SEEK project to extend the Biodiversity Research Center's five-year international initiative in biodiversity informatics," said Beach.

Partners at other institutions include Bertram Ludaescher of the San Diego Supercomputing Center at the University of California-San Diego, J. Reichman at the University of California-Santa Barbara and William Michener, director of the Long-Term Ecological Research Network at the University of New Mexico, which leads the SEEK collaboration.

"SEEK will help researchers address global research, management and policy issues in environmental biology," said Michener. "Increasingly, these issues require efficient, automated access to diverse and widespread data."

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