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Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: Biodiversity: Discov &Analysis | Award Amount: 676.43K | Year: 2016

Vanuatu is a group of 80 islands located in the South Pacific, situated roughly equidistant from New Caledonia, Fiji, and the Solomon Islands, all of which are globally important biodiversity hotspots. Despite its significance as a treasure trove of biodiversity, Vanuatus plants and fungi remain poorly documented, leaving a significant gap in our knowledge of regional biodiversity compared with neighboring island countries, all of which have active or completed flora surveys. The few existing plant surveys in Vanuatu have focused primarily on the northern end of the archipelago. In the southern part of the country, little reliable botanical data exist, and there is great potential for new scientific discoveries. This project focuses on Tafea Province, the five southernmost islands of Vanuatu. In March, 2015, Tafea Province was the site of a catastrophic category-5 super-cyclone. Just prior to that, eight forest transects were established to characterize vegetation growth and change over time. These study sites were severely impacted by the storm, and monitoring efforts will provide an important opportunity to understand how Pacific-Island forests recover from this type of event. Along with its rich biological diversity, Vanuatu is also the most linguistically rich country in the world, with 112 languages for a total population of only 253,000; nine of these languages are found only in Tafea Province. As globalization and economic development are proceeding in Vanuatu, local languages are being replaced by English, French, and Bislama (a local Creole), and thus there is a critical need to document local languages and the botanical knowledge that is encapsulated therein. Undergraduate students will be trained in the analysis of linguistic data, and graduate students will participate in all aspects of the research and receive valuable training in tropical botany and mycology.

The researchers will complete the first comprehensive survey of angiosperms, gymnosperms, ferns, lycophytes, bryophytes, endophytic and macro-fungi, and lichens ever undertaken in Tafea Province. Surveys will be conducted using two approaches: 1) establishment of permanent monitoring transects and plots, which will allow for both vegetation analysis and dense floristic and fungal sampling, and provide an opportunity for long-term monitoring in the face of global climate change, and 2) a general collecting approach will be used across larger areas. From these data, an annotated checklist (both hard copy and online) will be assembled using the database of newly collected and historical specimens. The checklist will allow for tests of phytogeographic relationships among Vanuatu and its closest neighbors (New Caledonia and Fiji), allowing the researchers to address questions relating to levels of endemism, species distributions, and evolution of the regional flora. Because most land in Vanuatu is held under customary ownership, and local people are the stewards of their environments, the loss of biocultural knowledge is a serious threat to their ability to manage biodiversity resources sustainably. To support local environmental education efforts, the project will combine the expertise of the teams linguists and botanists to work with indigenous speakers of eight Tafean languages to document names of plants and fungi, providing a tangible linkage between biodiversity, traditional culture, and conservation. Project linguists will produce printed and digital dictionaries of indigenous plant and fungal names and will use web-based videography and story maps, which spatially link names and traditional uses of organisms onto the landscape, helping viewers visualize the connections between biodiversity, knowledge, and place, providing a complement to the botanical databases.

Microscopic fungi (microfungi) represent a diverse assemblage that is distributed worldwide and includes bread molds, plant pathogens, powdery mildews, rusts, slime molds, and water molds. A large percentage of these organisms are harmless or even beneficial, but some cause disease and death in animals, plants, and other fungi resulting in major economic loss and serious negative implications for human and ecosystem health. Despite their importance, little is known about their distribution, diversity, ecology, or host associations. This project is a collaborative effort involving 38 institutions in 31 states and aims to consolidate data from specimens housed in biodiversity collections for 2.3 million microfungi specimens and make these data available through online resources. The consolidation and increased accessibility of these data is critical to inform and promote new and innovative research, education and community engagement around this little-known but important group of organisms.

Specimen data generated by this project will be used to assess natural and human-induced environmental changes on microfungi distributions, and evaluate the impact of these changes on the function and health of ecosystems. This project fills a critical gap in the national digitization effort by contributing images, digitizing specimen label data, and linking associated ancillary data for over 1.2 million North American specimens of microfungi. Additionally, nomenclature and taxonomic information will be updated to reflect the newest practices as dictated by the International Codes for Nomenclature. These data will provide a foundation for making informed decisions by agribusinesses, educators, forest managers, government agencies, horticulturalists, policy makers, researchers, and the general public. The broader education goals of this project will be facilitated through the development and implementation of a teaching module for high school biology on the economic importance of microfungi. This award is made as part of the National Resource for Digitization of Biological Collections through the Advancing Digitization of Biological Collections program and all data resulting from this award will be available through the national resource (

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: Dimensions of Biodiversity | Award Amount: 759.87K | Year: 2015

Obligate symbioses are relationships between two or more species that depend entirely on each other for growth and survival. Such symbioses characterize some of the most common and ecologically important relationships on Earth, ranging from human gut bacteria and diseases to corals and specialized plant-pollinator relationships. Yet, many of these obligate symbioses are imperiled by unprecedented rates of environmental change and permanent biodiversity losses. Compared to single branches on the tree of life such as birds, flowering plants, or mammals, much less is known about the factors that facilitate or limit the distributions of the obligate symbioses that abound in nature. Moreover, research on biodiversity distributions has focused largely on abiotic factors (e.g., temperature, precipitation, elevation) rather than on biotic factors (i.e., interactions with other organisms) that influence geographical distributions. This project will uncover the factors that impact diversity and distributions of obligate symbiotic lichens as a model system. The geographic focus is the southern Appalachian Mountains of the southeastern U.S. -- a global lichen diversity hotspot and unique natural laboratory. In addition, this project will develop human capital and infrastructure in U.S. lichenology through student training, collaborations, and outreach to resource managers and the public. It will establish a publicly available, high quality dataset and improve physical and digital resources that advance lichen conservation for a global biodiversity hotspot.

Despite generations of research on, and proposed theories for factors that generate and maintain biodiversity, consensus is lacking. Biotic factors have long been proposed as drivers, but they are rarely studied due to the difficulty of assessing the multitude of possible interactions. Because of the inherent biotic interaction between obligate symbionts, lichens offer a unique opportunity to explore both biotic and abiotic drivers of biodiversity across multiple dimensions. This project will utilize both field and genomic inventories of lichens in a global biodiversity hotspot. The research will generate and synthesize data from multiple symbiotic biodiversity dimensions initiated from a single information source: a unique museum voucher. Across local, regional, and landscape scales, the project will record site-specific metrics for phylogenetic (including taxonomic) and functional diversity together with site-specific metrics for a mostly unexplored genetic dimension, potential of diversity, that quantifies the availability of compatible symbiont propagules in the environment. Analysis of these metrics in light of biotic and abiotic variables enables assessment of factors that impact the dimensions of biodiversity. These analyses will also permit understanding of interactions among dimensions, for example, whether all are positively correlated and predicted by the same sets of variables, or in what contexts other types of correlations exist. This project is designed to yield two major conceptual advances in ecology and evolutionary biology. First, it will reveal new, emergent properties of biodiversity gradients in symbiotic organisms. Second, deconstructing constraints on individual partners of the symbiosis and quantifying feedbacks between and among them will make possible a full analysis, including biotic constraints, of the factors that impact diversity and distribution of the symbiotic organism as a whole.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Continuing grant | Program: | Phase: Systematics & Biodiversity Sci | Award Amount: 393.85K | Year: 2016

A major goal of botanists is to describe and name the vast diversity of plant species found on our planet and to understand how, when, and where plants evolved. This is particularly challenging for groups with very large numbers of species, especially when they are difficult to observe because they grow in hard to reach places. Tropical trees are among the most under-studied plants, creating a significant gap in our knowledge. To overcome this gap, an efficient and effective strategy is needed to discover, describe, understand and conserve this large and important part of the worlds biodiversity. This research project will develop a streamlined strategy, using the genus Schefflera (a member of the ivy family, Araliaceae) in tropical America as a model group. More than 400 species of Schefflera occur in this vast region, especially in the very mountainous areas of the northern Andes. Many of these species have only been seen by scientists once or a few times, and almost half do not yet have scientific names. Moreover, very few tools are available to recognize and identify these ecologically important plants, and we know almost nothing about how they evolved into so many different forms, or how they were able to adapt to the wide range of habitats. The strategy of this study, which includes field work in four Andean countries (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru), aims to improve our understanding of these evolutionary processes. It will also focus on identifying and naming the species that occur in a limited number of places and are most threatened with extinction (mostly by tropical deforestation) so that they can be targeted by conservation efforts. The information generated by the project will be made available on-line to a wide range of users, both within and beyond the scientific community. To help develop the next generation of plant systematists, undergraduate students will be trained in summer internship programs at the Missouri and New York Botanical Gardens, and more advanced students will participate in a tropical field botany program, joining the project scientists to gain hands-on experience during field work in South America.

The research will involve constructing phylogenies for the species of Andean Schefflera using DNA-based evidence, taking advantage of recent advances in technology, especially high-throughput approaches to DNA sequencing. The phylogenies will provide a greater understanding of the major lineages of these 400+ species, which in turn will provide a framework for classifying and naming them, and for understanding their evolutionary and geographic relationships. A streamlined green-listing approach to assessing conservation status of the species that are most likely to be threatened will inform priorities for naming and conserving new and rare Andean members of Schefflera. Intensive herbarium studies will provide sources of geographic, morphological, and molecular data, and will guide field work in the countries of the central and northern Andes, targeting sites with the highest concentration of species that remain unsampled, and focusing on areas in southern Ecuador and northern Peru where the group appears to have undergone exceptional diversification. Time-dated phylogenies will be used to explore biogeographic scenarios and to test for correlations among morphology, ecology, geography and evolutionary history, providing insights into the evolution of plant diversity in the Andes. These studies will be conducted with the collaboration of local botanists and students from each of the four South American countries where field work will be done. This will promote a long-term network of international researchers capable of sustaining the long-term goals of fully documenting and understanding the tremendous diversity of Schefflera in the tropical Andes.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Continuing grant | Program: | Phase: BIOLOGICAL RESEARCH COLLECTION | Award Amount: 479.48K | Year: 2014

This project will allow the expansion of The William and Lynda Steere Herbarium of the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) in order to accommodate an additional 160,000 specimens of algae, fungi and palms. The New York Botanical Garden Herbarium is a National Systematics Research Resource Center containing approximately 7.3 million reference specimens of plants and fungi. It is the largest of the approximately 650 herbaria in the U.S. Herbarium specimens hold data that researchers use to re-create past landscapes and predict how vegetation will change over time. Specimens also contain nearly limitless information about the genetic makeup of organisms, their reproductive patterns, their adaptations for different types of habitats, and their relationships to other organisms. All of these data are urgently needed to contribute to the solutions to four key societal needs, namely sustainable food production, ecosystem restoration, biofuel production and improvement in human health. Solutions to these problems will require integration of as wide a range of biodiversity data as possible, along with information from earth and social sciences. The algae, bryophytes, fungi and palms are all under-studied groups with demonstrated but incompletely documented ecological and economic importance. Approximately 12 college students or recent graduates, hired as interns, will make up the largest proportion of the paid work force for this project, providing an important bridge activity between college and graduate school or career for these young adults. Additionally, members of the public will be invited to participate in this project by transcribing the labels of digitized specimens using on-line crowd sourcing applications. Especially targeted for this activity are formerly incarcerated citizens who are seeking re-entry into the workforce.

Throughout its 120 years of existence the NYBG Herbarium has grown steadily through collections made by staff members and collaborators, exchange, and incorporation of orphaned herbaria. This is one of the most frequently consulted herbaria in the world. During the past five years, more than 117,000 specimens have been sent on loan, visitors have spent 12,616 days using the collection, and NYBG Herbarium specimens have been cited in at least 1,200 publications. Eleven years after moving into a new herbarium building that was designed for 20 years of growth, the space allotted for collections of algae, bryophytes, fungi and palms is now insufficient for proper storage of these resources due to unexpected growth (algae, bryophytes and fungi) and inadequate shelving (palms). In order to accomplish the goal of housing all specimens according to accepted best practices and making the specimens and data derived from them available to the scientific community, this project will create an additional 2,798 cubbyholes of herbarium storage space by replacing 34 open shelving units with extra tall herbarium cabinets on existing compactors on the first floor of the herbarium building. This space will be sufficient to accommodate the specimens that cannot currently be filed and allow for five years of future growth. As part of the relocation of specimens into the new space, the curation of specimens will be improved and 92,000 specimens will be digitized. More information about NYBG and its outreach programs is available at:

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: BIOLOGICAL RESEARCH COLLECTION | Award Amount: 77.28K | Year: 2016

Scientists document the earths plant and fungal diversity through dried reference specimens maintained in collections known as herbaria. There are approximately 2,800 herbaria in the world today, associated with them are approximately 10,000 biodiversity specialists. Index Herbariorum, established in 1935, is a guide to the worlds herbaria and their staff. Accurate, comprehensive information about the holdings of the worlds herbaria make it easier for scientists to answer questions about the documentation of the worlds plant and fungal diversity, namely: How many species are represented in herbaria, and which areas of the earth are the best documented? Who are the experts in plant identification, and how can these be contacted? Facilitating access to and communication among herbaria will help to maintain the vitality and relevance of these institutions and ensure that they can continue to serve humankind. Index Herbariorum also serves as a model for how other natural history collections can create an inventory of their members and set up an effective collaborative network. An enhanced Index Herbariorum will empower countries such as the U.S. to better manage their collection repositories by providing insight into how collection resources and scientific expertise have developed over time, how they may change in the future. The project also offers a model for communication, coordination, and collaboration between museum institutions.

No other type of natural history collection has a resource that approaches Index Herbariorum in its longevity and comprehensiveness. The New York Botanical Garden has maintained this unique resource for the past 41 years. Originally published in book form, the index first became available as an on-line searchable database in 1997. Since then the database has been available as a read-only, online reference. Through this project, The New York Botanical Garden will make this already vital resource updateable by the user community, and more easily linked to other online databases. These changes will expand the accuracy, accessibility and sustainability of this resource and make it easier to maintain in the future. The activities that will be carried out to accomplish these goals include: (1) Adjusting the data structure of IH to bring it into compliance with the emerging Natural Collections Description standard and to increase the effectiveness of searching key data, and indicate the status of collection digitization efforts; (2) creating a new user interface that will allow users to input updates to the index that will be vetted then incorporated into the index; (3) seting up APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) to the database so the data can be fed to other applications without human mediation; and (4) informing the user community about the new updating procedures, and mounting a campaign to update 80% of those entries that have not been updated since 2000.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: Biodiversity: Discov &Analysis | Award Amount: 675.00K | Year: 2015

Myanmars Northern Forest complex hosts the largest remaining tracts of primary forest in mainland Southeast Asia. The area is recognized as a biodiversity hotspot with an estimated 6,000 species of which 1,500 species are estimated to exist nowhere else. However, this poorly known and botanically important region has been largely closed off to researchers for the past 75 years so the true extent of plant diversity has yet to be established. This project will conduct the first intensive botanical inventory of the Hkakaborazi-Hponganrazi region since the early 20th century and fill a major gap in the understanding of Southeast Asian plant diversity. Researchers from New York Botanical Garden, Wildlife Conservation Society, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, and the Myanmar Forest Department will sample broadly throughout the Hkakaborazi-Hponganrazi region at different times of the year to maximize chances of collecting rare or narrowly endemic species. Resulting collection and distribution data will be provided directly to the Myanmar Forest Department for use in planning decisions within the region. The project will also improve international scientific infrastructure and collaboration by training botanists and foresters in field and herbarium techniques and by improving research capacity in Myanmars Forest Research Institute herbarium.

All collected specimens will be digitized, databased, georeferenced and their data will be made available on the internet through an open-access Myanmar flora web portal. A taxonomic checklist of the vascular plant species of Hkakaborazi-Hponganrazi will also be produced. Collections made as a part of this project will stimulate taxonomic research on the Myanmar flora by research specialists and support molecular phylogenetic and ecological studies. Specimen data will also provide the baseline information required to make planning decisions affecting the Northern Forest Complex ecosystem, and facilitate broad scale analyses of plant diversity patterns within Southeast Asia.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: Digitization | Award Amount: 147.73K | Year: 2015

The New York Botanical Gardens William and Lynda Steere Herbarium (NY) proposes to join the existing Thematic Collections Network (TCN) entitled, Mobilizing New England Vascular Plant Specimen Data to Track Environmental Changes. The goal of this project is to mine data from preserved plant specimens in order to support studies of the nature and consequences of environmental change in the New England region over the last three centuries. The New York Botanical Garden will contribute approximately 150,000 digitized specimens to the 1.3 million specimens that will be digitized at other institutions.

Data generated through this project will be of immediate use to scientists who study climate and land-use change, and will provide a better understanding of how global changes will impact the distribution of native and introduced plant species in the future. The project will provide career-relevant management training for a recent college graduate, and will provide employment and job experience for college undergraduates, exposing these young people to an aspect of environmental science not commonly taught in universities. Citizen scientists will be invited to participate in this project by helping to transcribe label data, georeferencing, and scoring specimens for phenological state. This award is made as part of the National Resource for Digitization of Biological Collections through the Advancing Digitization of Biological Collections program and all data resulting from this award will be available through the national resource (

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: Digitization | Award Amount: 218.02K | Year: 2016

In light of the increasingly urban future of our planet, a thorough understanding of the biological processes at work in urban areas is necessary for the continued survival of Earths inhabitants, including humans. The first step in that understanding is to know what thrives, survives, or perishes in cities, now and in the past. The Mid-Atlantic Megalopolis (MAM) Project begins this study by looking at vascular plants, with the digitization of roughly 700,000 herbarium specimens from eleven institutions, including public and private universities, state agencies, arboreta, museums, and botanic gardens, in the urban corridor from New York City to Washington, D.C. As the largest, oldest, and most populated urban corridor in the U.S., this area and its flora present a unique opportunity for the study of urbanization, particularly given its rich herbarium collections, containing specimens collected over the last 400 years. The data mobilized in this effort will help us achieve a better scientific understanding of living urban systems, a critical need for urban planners, restoration ecologists, environmental engineers, (landscape) architects, and conservationists engaged in creating more sustainable and better designed cities, including the constructed and restored natural environments of our urban areas.

Digitization of each specimen in the MAM Project will result in a high resolution image, a databased record of collection metadata, and a georeferenced point, all of which will be made publicly available online. Building on already successful regional programs, the MAM Project will partner with schools, universities, botanical clubs, and the general public to crowd source databasing efforts and to recruit citizen scientists to help build urban floras online, enabling not only increased digitization efficiency, but educational and research opportunities as well. The MAM Project also includes new developments for data cleaning and standardization in Symbiota, which will expedite the use of digitized specimen data for research, and new reporting features which will advance digitization workflow and project management. This award is made as part of the National Resource for Digitization of Biological Collections through the Advancing Digitization of Biological Collections program, and all data resulting from this award will be available through the national resource (

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: Biodiversity: Discov &Analysis | Award Amount: 307.59K | Year: 2015

The basin of the Tapajos River in the Brazilian Amazon Rain Forest is a region of exceptionally high biodiversity and pressing ecosystem threats, including some of the highest deforestation rates in the Amazon. The plant communities of the region are very poorly known, and many large areas within the basin have been little studied by botanists. This paucity of botanical information about the region impedes critical research on the past, present, and future of Amazonian plant diversity. This project will compile inventories of the plants of two protected areas in the region that are critical for the study and management of biodiversity. The primary goal is to produce an interactive open-access, web-based conspectus guide to the plants of the two areas. Project data will be shared with the global research community and Brazilian governmental agencies so that the plant resources and natural ecosystems contained within the two areas might be more effectively studied, protected, and managed. Beyond its basic scientific value, the project will advance scientific collaboration between the US and Brazil by sponsoring inter-institutional research travel by project personnel and by providing training opportunities for American and Brazilian students.

This project will produce comprehensive inventories of the vascular plants of Tapajos National Forest and Amazonia National Park. These will be the first such inventories for any comparably sized areas in southeast Amazonia. The project will combine a synthesis of existing data with intensive collecting of herbarium specimens and tissue samples for DNA-based studies. General collecting and plot-based inventory approaches will be implemented to maximize species recovery. Identification of specimens will rely on traditional morphologically based approaches, as well as DNA barcoding. The two inventories will constitute critical datasets for comparison with previously documented Amazonian floras. Project data will be useful for testing hypotheses about the distribution of Amazonian plant diversity and will contribute toward efforts to model projected floristic change. It is highly probable that the research will extend the known limits of plant distributions and will result in the discovery of significant new taxonomic diversity. A web-based conspectus flora will be supported by state-of-the-art informatics technologies and will make project data and other resources broadly available for diverse areas of research that require the accurate identification of plant species. Project data will also be shared with a wide range of international biodiversity data portals and related applications.

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