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Scientists enlist big data to guide conservation efforts
Date:7/18/2014

Despite a deluge of new information about the diversity and distribution of plants and animals around the globe, "big data" has yet to make a mark on conservation efforts to preserve the planet's biodiversity. But that may soon change.

A new model developed by University of California, Berkeley, biologist Brent Mishler and his colleagues in Australia leverages this growing mass of data much of it from newly digitized museum collections to help pinpoint the best areas to set aside as preserves and to help biologists understand the evolutionary history of life on Earth.

The model takes into account not only the number of species throughout an area the standard measure of biodiversity but also the variation among species and their geographic rarity, or endemism.

"For most people, species are something special, but a plant like a dandelion, with lots of close relatives, shouldn't be counted equal to our endemic redwood, which has no close relatives," said Mishler, a UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology. "We now have a more complex view of biodiversity that takes into account more than the number of species, but also their rarity in the landscape and the rarity of close relatives."

The model, which requires intense computer calculations, is described in this week's online edition of Nature Communications.

"If our goal is to preserve the tree of life and pass it on to our children, then it's important to preserve not only the cradles of new species, the neoendemics, but also the refuges of rare and threatened species, the paleoendemics; the nurseries and the nursing homes," said Mishler, director of the University and Jepson Herbaria at UC Berkeley and senior fellow at the new Berkeley Institute for Data Sciences (BIDS).

Mishler and his colleagues created the model, which they call categorical analysis of neo- and paleoendemism (CANAPE), while he was in Australia in 2011 to take advantage of
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Contact: Robert Sanders
rlsanders@berkeley.edu
510-643-6998
University of California - Berkeley
Source:Eurekalert  

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