Project Description

1. Brief Statement of Objectives and Rationale
Understanding the potential impacts of climate change, invasive species, and other large-scale factors on biological systems is a formidable task. It is not feasible to conduct randomized, replicated experiments at regional and continental scales. Instead we can use natural field experiments to study such phenomena (Hargrove and Pickering 1992). Herein we propose to develop a continental scale network for the rapid collection of vast quantities of specimen-level data to inventory and monitor field sites. We will use these data to take advantage of natural experiments. Our specific objectives are

2. Results from Previous NSF Support

2.1 Steve Stephenson
NSF Award DEB-0316284 - Planetary Biodiversity Inventories: Global Biodiversity of Eumycetozoans; Stephenson; University of Arkansas; $2,075,523; 2003-2009.

This project's overall goal was to expand, standardize, systematize and summarize all available information on the taxonomy, ecology and biogeography of eumycetozoans (myxomycetes, dictyostelids and protostelids). The primary objective was to survey for eumycetozoans in areas of the world where data were previously lacking. Secondary objectives included (1) compiling a major specimen database that would encompass both numerous "new" records obtained from the field surveys as well as the majority of the myxomycete collections in the world's herbaria and all available records of dictyostelids and protostelids and (2) developing a web site on eumycetozoans that would incorporate the specimen databases and world distribution maps for all of the 1,200 to 1,300 known and new species. During the course of the project, field surveys were carried out on all seven continents and in every type of terrestrial ecosystem. The total effort has considerably increased our understanding of patterns of eumycetozoan biodiversity on scales ranging from local to global. An extensive web site ( has been constructed that includes databases of nomenclature, specimen records [>213,000 thus far], published literature, images of particular species (>2,000 images that show habit, diagnostic features and ultrastructure) and educational materials on eumycetozoans. A linkage established with Discover Life ( allows world distribution maps to be generated for each species. This aspect of the project represents the first effort to consolidate and make available to the scientific community and an even larger public audience the widely scattered information that exists on eumycetozoans.

Broader Impacts: The project funded by this grant has been a major collaborative effort involving scientists from all over the world. In addition, the grant provided support for five Ph.D. students, two MS students and 15 undergraduates (13 of whom are female). Numerous (ca >100) presentations have been made at international and national meetings, and >80 papers in peer-reviewed journals have been published thus far.

2.2 Nyree Zerega
NSF Award DBI 0648972 - REU Site: Plant Science and Conservation Biology from Genes to Ecosystems; PI: Louise Egerton-Warburton, co-PI Nyree Zerega; Chicago Botanic Garden and Northwestern University; $252,960; 2008 - 2010.

The primary goals of the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Program in Plant Biology and Conservation program were to: 1) provide a diverse group of undergraduate students with a stimulating interdisciplinary environment to address contemporary research issues in basic and applied plant conservation; 2) facilitate a unique research experience that promotes intellectual growth, analytical skills, and creativity; and 3) encourage students to pursue graduate school and professional careers in plant conservation and related disciplines.

Our REU program began with a weeklong field and laboratory workshop where students were introduced to interdisciplinary conservation practices through field sampling and census protocols, and laboratory methods in plant molecular biology, and soil chemistry and biology. This weeklong period encouraged collaborative learning, leadership, and the development of group identity as well as the collection, analysis, and interpretation of different data forms. After the first week, students worked closely with their mentors to complete an 8-week research project. At the close of the program, students presented their research both as a short oral presentation and poster. The research projects included both basic and applied conservation research, and comprised conservation genetics, systematics and evolution, molecular ecology, pollination ecology, restoration, aquatics, biogeochemistry, and plant-soil interactions.

Broader Impacts: Over the course of the three year grant, 342 applications (19% came from minorities) were received, and 34 applicants (23% were minorities) were chosen. Currently, 16 of the REU students have now graduated from college, and 13 of them are either employed or in graduate school in the field of biological and environmental sciences or other STEM fields.

2.3 Gretchen LeBuhn
NSF Award DBI 0207090 - UMEB: Integrating Inquiry-Based and Cooperative Learning with Expanded Career Horizons in Environmental Biology; PI: Edward Connor, co-PIs Gretchen LeBuhn, V. Thomas Parker; San Francisco State University; $400,000; 2002 - 2007.

This UMEB (Undergraduate Mentoring in Environmental Biology) program was designed to encourage and prepare students from groups that are currently underrepresented in the sciences to choose careers in environmental biology. Over the four years, 23 undergraduate students were integrated into research labs pursuing research on the local projects. Most students participated for two years during which they acted as members of research teams in ongoing projects, and developed, executed, analyzed, interpreted, wrote-up, and presented a project of their own design with supervision of their mentor. The science conducted by students in the program focused on the impact of urbanization and agriculture via habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation, but was not exclusively restricted to this area. Over the four years of the grant we had 43 applicants of which 31 were female and 14 were male. Our applicant pool included 7/43 or 16% minority students. From these applicants, we accepted 23 students (15 female and 8 male) of which 7/23 (30%) were minority students. Four graduate students, partially supported by the grant, assisted with program coordination. Of the graduate participants, all were female, and one was minority.

A total of 10 faculty mentors participated in the UMEB program as sole or as co-mentors of one of more student participants. Of the 20 undergraduate student participants who have graduated, 14 entered graduate programs in Biology, Mathematics, Medicine or Education (70%), 3 have obtained employment in biologically or environmentally related positions, and 3 are in unrelated fields or unemployed.

Four papers arising from the research conducted by the undergraduate participants and four papers arising from the graduate students have been published, accepted for publication, or submitted (see citations under each student). A total of 15 presentations at local, regional, or national scientific meetings have been made by the student participants.

Broader Impacts: Over the four years of the grant we had 43 applicants.

2.4 Eric Nagy
NSF Award DBI 1005104 - REU Site: Independent Field Research in Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at Mountain Lake Biological Station. E. Nagy PI, E. Brodie co-PI, $509,238, 5/2010 - 4/2015.

This program has renewed NSF funding for 2005-2015. The 18 year old NSF-funded REU-Sites program at MLBS is most closely related to this proposal. A list of all individual participants and their projects is archived on the website. During the past five-year period the program has hosted 56 undergraduate researchers from 40 different institutions; 71% are female, 34% from racial and ethnic groups underrepresented in science (up from 11% five years ago), and 36% from non-Ph.D.-granting institutions. 9% participated in the program with outside funding (eg. Mentor support, home institution scholarship, REU Supplement, etc.). 47% have entered graduate programs or have already earned advanced degrees (participants from 2008 and 2009 programs not included). Eight of the eleven (73%) 2008 program participants plan to apply to Ph.D. programs in the next year. 13% of those entering graduate school do so with NSF Graduate Fellowships. 33% of minority participants from the same period are currently in graduate programs. Dawn O'Neil, an African-American woman whose first field experience was as an REU at MLBS (2001), returned to the program as an REU mentor in 2005 after initiating her Ph.D. work in the lab she worked in as an REU. Two other recent program alumni also returned as mentors during the currently funded project. Another measure of program success is publication and presentation rate. From student projects supported in the past 5 years, 11 papers have been published or are in press. At least three more will be submitted shortly. These 14 papers reflect the work of 38% of REU participants during the most recent award.

3. Objectives, Rationale, and Significance

3.1 Capacity building
We propose to study species and their interactions with teams of students at 95 field sites, building a powerful new multi-site framework for natural history research. It will allow us to address large-scale research questions (section 3.2) and mentor a new generation of field scientists.

Traditional methods of collecting and managing specimen-level data are neither economically nor functionally feasible for studying the driving forces of large-scale ecological phenomena. While required for systematics, processing physical specimens is too laborious and inefficient to yield sufficient replicates of comparable data across sites and over time. Faced with this problem, many studies have turned to citizen scientists to collect data rapidly and over extensive geographical areas (Crall et al. 2010). However, when data are strictly observational, they generally lack credibility and scientific rigor, because species identifications cannot be verified and are often wrong (Mumby et al. 1995, Ericsson and Wallin 1999, Barrett et al. 2002, Genet and Sargent 2003, Brandon et al. 2003).

To address these issues, Discover Life has designed a system to collect, identify, integrate and check large quantities of high-quality data using digital photography, web tools and rigorous protocols. Our experience with the Lost Ladybug Project shows that when image data are verified by experts they can be of very high-quality. We are now ready to expand our system across a network of field sites and taxa, enabling researchers to answer ecological questions across scales ranging from local to continental.

3.2 Research Questions
Our initial work focuses on six questions. We will expand these to additional taxa as researchers join the network.

4. Methods

4.1 Capacity Building

4.2 Methods to answer research questions
For our analysis we will select species that are readily identifiable from photographs, are relatively easy to find, and occur across multiple sites and years. Based on our work photographing and identifying moths, plants and lichens over the past two years, we estimate that the network will process an average of over 10,000 specimens identified to species per year at each site. Once we build custom identification guides to the sites, each verified identification will require approximately one minute of human time.

5. Broader Impacts

6. Collaborator Contributions

Our Methods and Budget Justification specify the PI's and co-PIs' contributions. We list the letters of collaboration from field sites in section 4.1.4. Below we list the other individuals who sent letters of collaboration, their institutions, and roles. A supporting document presents all letters together alphabetically.

  1. John Ascher, American Museum of Natural History, taxonomic support, bees Brian Brown, Los Angeles County Natural History Museum, taxonomic support, flies (also a field site)
  2. Bill Buck, New York Botanical Garden, taxonomic support, mosses and lichens Gerry Cassis, University of New South Wales, Atlas of Living Australia, ecological theory, species interactions Theresa Crimmins, National Phenology Network, coordination with other projects Paul Davison, University of North Alabama, taxonomic support, mosses and bryophytes
  3. Patty Gowaty, University of California, Los Angeles, ecological theory, evolution and behavior Wendy Gram, National Ecological Observatory Network, data sharing Stella Guerrero, Cedar Shoals High School, teacher, education advisor, high school recruitment Bill Hargrove, USDA Forest Service, ecological theory, data analysis
  4. Richard Harris, New York Botanical Garden, taxonomic support, lichens
  5. James Hogue, California State University, taxonomic support, syrphid flies Jason Hollinger, Mushroom Observer, web technology, fungal and lichen identification Steve Hubbell, University of California, Los Angeles, ecological theory, biodiversity Dan Kjar, Elmira College, ecological theory, technical support, hosting meetings Robert Luecking, Field Museum, taxonomic support, lichens Mike Mueller, University of Georgia, teacher recruitment Zack Murrell, Appalachian State University, taxonomic support, plants
  6. Cynthia Parr, Encyclopedia of Life, website partner Jennifer Schwarz, Chicago Botanic Garden, Floral Report Card, website partner Annie Simpson, US Geological Survey, computer support, identification guides Ben Swecker, Prince William Network, video editing, webcasts Matt von Konrat, Field Museum, taxonomic support, liverworts Ron Walcott, University of Georgia Young Scholars Program, student recruitment Nathan Wilson, Encyclopedia of Life, Mushroom Observer, taxonomic support, fungi

    7. Schedule of Research