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NSF Press Release


NSF PR 03-104 - September 23, 2003

Media contact:

 Cheryl Dybas, NSF

 (703) 292-7734

All Species Foundation Contact:

 Julia Kirkland Berger

 (415) 750-7243

Program contact:

 Jim Woolley, NSF

 (703) 292-8133

National Science Foundation Announces $14M Planetary Biodiversity Inventory Awards

Arlington, Va.—The National Science Foundation (NSF), in cooperation with the ALL Species Foundation, has announced an important new strategy to discover, describe and classify Earth's species. By some estimates as many as 90 percent of living species are unknown to science, and traditional approaches to discover them are unacceptably slow, scientists say. International teams of scientists are focusing existing expertise and collections on coordinating and prioritizing field, laboratory and museum studies to rapidly expand knowledge of species diversity in habitats all over the planet. New species will be described, phylogenetic relationships analyzed, and ALL Species classified based on fossil, morphological and molecular evidence.

These inventories are on an unprecedented scale and the first to be framed by phylogeny rather than place. "They have the potential to transform how biodiversity exploration is done and will train a new generation of experts, complement existing research programs and make thousands of species newly available for scientific study," said Quentin Wheeler, director of NSF's division of environmental biology, which funds the initiative under the name Planetary Biodiversity Inventory (PBI).

The first PBI awardees are:

Lynn Bohs at the University of Utah, is heading a team to classify plants in the genus Solanum, which includes major crops such as tomatoes, potatoes and eggplants, as well as numerous lesser-known crops of tropical and subtropical regions, sources of pharmaceutical agents, and poisonous weeds like deadly nightshade. With an estimated 1500 species worldwide, Solanum is the focus of large-scale genomics projects and the genus provides model systems to study plant breeding, pollination biology and fruit dispersal.

Larry Page of the Florida Museum of Natural History and colleagues will inventory and describe the world's catfishes. Catfishes are extremely diverse, ecologically significant and commercially important. At present, 2,734 species of catfish are recognized, or one of every four species of freshwater fish, but the actual number of catfish species is probably between 3,600 and 4,500. A group of 201 participants from 31 countries, including 57 students, will discover and describe at least 1,000 new species of catfishes, including all fossil catfishes.

Randall Schuh at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and his team will conduct a global study of plant-feeding insects in the family Miridae, a worldwide group of insects important in agriculture and as indicators of biodiversity. The scientists will study approximately 5,300 species represented by 550,000 specimens housed in the world's natural history museums, and they will collect an additional 100,000 specimens, primarily in the Southern Hemisphere. More than 1,000 species new to science will be described.

Frederick Spiegel at the University of Arkansas will lead a group working to describe and classify the estimated 1,300 species of microscopic organisms called Eumycetozoa. Also known as slime molds, eumycetozoans have two extremely different life stages: an amoeba-like stage that feeds on bacteria and fungi that decompose dead vegetation and a spore-dispersing fruiting body stage that looks like fungus. Eumycetozoans are important predators of bacteria and fungi in terrestrial ecosystems, and they provide excellent model systems for developmental biologists to study how different kinds of cells develop in closely related organisms.


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The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget of nearly $5.3 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 30,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 10,000 new funding awards. The NSF also awards over $200 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

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