Professor Pamela Soltis discusses how the Biodiversity Institute at the University of Florida was founded to address critical societal issues of the 21st century related to biodiversity
Biodiversity refers to the extraordinary variation of life on Earth. While widely accepted that natural biological diversity is fundamental to a healthy, sustainable planet and that its loss has negative impact on human well-being, the connections between biodiversity, ecosystem function, and services that contribute to human well-being – from the flow of fresh water to pollination of crops – are less well understood. Ecological economists note the effect of invasive species (>$120 billion annually in the U.S. alone) and have begun to quantify the economic benefit of ecosystem services, but less is known about the impact of lost ecosystem services on other aspects of both environmental and human well-being. Global responses to societal problems arising from both loss and alterations of biodiversity suffer from insufficient information and inadequate policies for sustainable use of natural resources. Consequently, much of the diversity of our planet is likely to disappear before it can be discovered and understood. This “Biodiversity Crisis” – that is, the loss of biodiversity and its attendant consequences – creates both the necessity and the opportunity for a new type of response.
The importance of biodiversity
Recognizing the important role of biodiversity in the biological and sociological health of the planet, the U.N. declared 2010 the “Year of Biodiversity” and 2011-2020 the “Decade on Biodiversity” to focus attention on the accelerating loss of biodiversity in the face of human population growth, landscape modification, and climate change. In 2011, the U.S. President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology called for improved accounting of ecosystem services and greater protection of environmental capital, citing the need for further biodiversity science and application of informatics to enhance our understanding of ecosystem services and develop appropriate policy to protect them. Recently, the International Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, with 118 member nations, has begun assessing the scientific and social knowledge of Earth’s biological diversity and how environmental change will impact ecosystems and human societies. Despite increased awareness, more integrated, accessible science and technology platforms are needed to leverage novel planetary data, models, and tools to create and link knowledge to policy.
The Biodiversity Institute
The University of Florida (UF) Biodiversity Institute was launched in 2016 to bring together scientists, social scientists, and policy experts to address critical societal issues of the 21st century related to biodiversity: invasive species, emerging pathogens, climate change, and food security, to name a few. This interdisciplinary Institute is accelerating synthetic research on biological diversity to serve stakeholders in Florida (a biodiversity hotspot) and globally through efforts to understand and manage biodiversity, develop relevant conservation, educational, and outreach programs, and shape policy to protect and enhance environmental capital.
The Mission of the UF Biodiversity Institute is to conduct high-quality, collaborative research and develop programs to advance three primary goals: (1) Initiate and lead large-scale, biological surveys to document and monitor biodiversity on a global scale; (2) Conduct interdisciplinary research on biodiversity, with an emphasis on the use of Big Data; and (3) Translate biodiversity science to solve major societal problems. Newly synthesized knowledge from the Institute is available to individuals and organizations seeking validated biodiversity information.