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NSF and Paul G. Allen Family Foundation Co-fund Conservation Science and Action of Key Species and Ecosystems

Images of a Crystal Skipper butterfly, coastal ecosystem, desert tortoises, bat, Blunt nosed lizard, and Hawaiian land snail.

Six new projects, funded by a partnership between NSF and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.

March 22, 2023

Six new projects, funded by a partnership between the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, will combine scientific research and conservation activities to learn from and protect Earth’s biodiversity. The projects, funded by $8 million in combined support from the two organizations, focus on protecting diverse ecosystems and imperiled species across the country.  

The projects are part of a new collaboration between NSF and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation called Partnership to Advance Conservation Science and Practice (PACSP). The program calls for teams of researchers and conservation practitioners to develop science-informed conservation action plans and contribute to the development of tools and efforts that advance biodiversity conservation. The competition received broad interest, with a large number of submissions coming from researchers who had not previously submitted to NSF.

“More than 1,000,000 species across the globe are threatened with extinction and these projects are a step towards decreasing that number and slowing the rate of biodiversity loss on Earth,” said Simon Malcomber, acting assistant director for NSF’s Directorate for Biological Sciences. “These efforts are critical as losing any species impacts society, whether by changes in disease patterns, decreases in natural pest control, ecosystem degradation, or by losing one of life’s unique solutions to problems that humans could’ve harnessed to our benefit,”

Several of the projects will work to understand and conserve a range of species across a diversity of environments. These include efforts to protect the crystal skipper butterfly that lives only in limited parts of the barrier islands of North Carolina, restoration of seagrasses and oyster beds of the coastal mid-Atlantic, and actions to preserve animals in some of the Hawai’ian Islands, San Joaquin Desert, and the Mojave Desert. Each of the focal species and systems are being impacted by climate change and/or by urbanization. Many of the species are endangered or threatened and are hence the focus of restoration efforts.

A different focus of one of the projects is less on the species or habitat of concern but instead directed at a significant threat to biodiversity, the fungal disease White Nose Syndrome, which has driven several bat species to become endangered.

“The breadth of biodiversity loss in the United States is reflected in the wide range of species covered in these six projects. While the approaches are different, each study addresses systemic issues that are much bigger than a singular species, and they leverage science and technology to accelerate conservation solutions,” said Lara Littlefield, Executive Director on behalf of the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. “The increased number of new-to-NSF applicants also tells us that there is untapped potential for more collaboration between primary research and applied technology.”

Altogether, these projects feature associations between researchers at 11 academic institutions, including two Minority Serving Institutions, and conservation practitioners from the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, North Carolina Aquariums, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Hawai’i Department of Land and Natural Resources, the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, The Nature Conservancy, and the North Carolina Coastal Federation.

In addition to their scientific and preservation work, the teams will work to engage policymakers, students, teachers, and the public on topics related to conservation. Several of these efforts will focus on underrepresented minorities, including a paid internship program for underrepresented minority students from throughout California’s Central Valley, training of Native Hawai’ians and Pacific Islanders in STEM integrated with indigenous research models, and recruitment of minority students from across North Carolina. Awardees will develop lesson plans for K-12 students, participate in after-school programs and summer camps, and host workshops for teachers. Broader public outreach will include social media, festivals and community meetings, museum and aquarium exhibits, interactive activities for children, and citizen science projects.  

Learn more about the Partnership to Advance Conservation Science and Practice program.

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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