California Biodiversity Center 2001-2005:  Summary Statement

Mary E. Power, Director

Brent D. Mishler, Associate Director

John Latto, Academic Coordinator

Mission and Vision

The mission of the California Biodiversity Center is to contribute to our understanding of the natural history of California--past, present, and future--by increasing interaction between museum-oriented scientists investigating the historical underpinnings of biodiversity, and field-oriented scientists investigating contemporary processes influencing organisms and ecosystems.

To understand how California’s biota and natural environments have responded and will respond to environmental change, we need scientific approaches from diverse fields, including geology, physical geography, paleontology, biology, ecology, anthropology, and archaeology.  The California Biodiversity Center builds on the unique strengths of the Berkeley Natural History Museums and the UC Berkeley field stations to forge connections with a wide range of partners and collaborators interested in history and the future of natural ecosystems of California.


Administrative history

The California Biodiversity Center (CBC) is a relatively small Organized Research Unit formed in the spring of 2001 to coordinate the programs and administration of the five Berkeley Natural History field stations and the five Berkeley Natural History Museums. The founding of the CBC triggered intellectual cross-fertilization as well as new administrative efficiencies.  The former benefit began almost immediately as researchers associated with the museums and those associated with the field stations found they had much in common.  What had been lacking was an organizational structure to bring them together.  The latter benefit, while more mundane, was nonetheless of critical importance.  Until the CBC was formed, there was no central administrative home for the Berkeley Natural History Field Stations.  By providing this, the CBC has strengthened and integrated the museums and field stations by filling some of the gaps in their coordination and support, to foster synergistic research and understanding critical for the conservation of biological diversity.


Role of the CBC in relation to other campus and national organizations

The five Natural History Field Stations are all also reserves in the system-wide University of California Natural Reserve System (UCNRS), a "network of protected natural areas throughout California that support university-level teaching, research, and public service.  As components of the UCNRS, the five Berkeley Natural History Field Stations are managed so as to preserve the extraordinary natural values of their forest, mountain, coastal, and oak savannah ecosystems.  These reserves allow researchers to study Californian ecosystems that are as close to their 'baseline' or natural states as any sites that can be found.  These research opportunities differ from, and complement, opportunities at the Experimental Forests and the Agricultural Experiment Stations, where the effects of various land use practices on ecosystems and natural resources can be systematically studied. 


Before the CBC was formed, the management of the Berkeley Natural History field stations was scattered among different offices in the Colleges of Natural Resources and Letters and Sciences, and in the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.  There was insufficient communication of opportunities available at these field stations to potential campus users, and little interaction between users of the natural history field stations and the forest experimental stations.  The CBC has begun to remedy these communication gaps by building a web site, and sponsoring meetings and workshops of faculty, students, and other researchers from diverse departments and organizations for direct, person-to-person communication.  For example, Professor John Battles, Director of the Berkeley Forest Experiment Stations, is on the CBC advisory board, and kindly assisted in our initial efforts to make meteorological data from the natural history reserves publicly available on the web by sharing programming expertise and code developed for this purpose for the Blodgett Forest Experimental Station. 


Relation of the CBC to large environmental initiatives on the Berkeley Campus

While nationally recognized, Berkeley environmental biology programs are dispersed among at least nine different departments on campus, with insufficient coordination and communication.  Several campus initiatives have been launched to remedy this problem, such as the Berkeley Institute of the Environment (BIE).  CBC Director Mary Power is in close communication with Professor Inez Fung, the leader of the BIE, and present Director of the Berkeley Atmospheric Sciences Center.  One example of the potential for cooperation and coordination between these larger initiatives and the CBC is the recently funded Keck Foundation proposal, submitted by Professor Fung and colleagues from Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, Earth and Planetary Science, Chemistry, Integrative Biology, and Electrical Engineering/Computer Science for the detailed study of hydrologic cycles on two of the Berkeley Natural History Reserves: The Angelo Reserve along the California North Coast and the Sagehen Reserve in the northern Sierra.  The CBC and the UC NRS supported this initiative by providing background information and data, logistical support and, most critically, the large protected watersheds where advanced monitoring technologies can be tested and implemented.  In January 2006, UC Berkeley was awarded $1.6 million from the W.M. Keck Foundation to develop new field measurement technologies for hydrological research, using Angelo and Sagehen as prototype field deployment sites.  Sagehen and Angelo's research infrastructure, and their long track record of ecological research, were instrumental in securing this major new grant.


Relation of the CBC to national research organizations

By supporting the Berkeley Natural History Field Stations, the CBC has facilitated the engagement by campus researchers in large research programs that keep Berkeley at the leading edge of national research on environmental change.  Under CBC's auspices, Sagehen Creek Field Stations usage has grown from several hundred user-days annually to over 6,000 last year.  The central station facilities have been upgraded and a transect of weather stations, connected by wireless data links has been installed.  Sagehen is an active monitoring site of the U.S. EPA's National Atmospheric Deposition Program.  Sagehen and Angelo are both active monitoring sites in the U.S. Geological Survey's National Hydrological Benchmark Network.  Two years ago, Sagehen became the newest member of the UC Natural Reserve System, and in November 2005 the surrounding basin was designated as the Sagehen Experimental Forest, the newest experimental forest in the National Forest System and the first in California since 1962. 


The Angelo Coast Range Reserve is also heavily used, and presently hosts field research programs of two National Science Foundation Centers.  Angelo was chosen as the primary collaborative field site for the $18 million National Center for Earth Surface Dynamics (NCED), an NSF Science and Technology Center.  Berkeley investigators in three departments (Environmental Science, Policy and Management, Earth and Planetary Science, and Integrative Biology) use the Angelo Reserve as their primary research site, and collaborate there with colleagues from several other universities.  The Angelo Reserve also hosts advanced mapping and landscape visualization research under the auspices of the National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping (NCALM).  Both programs are described in a recent article in the UCNRS Transect.  NCED has allocated over $100,000 for the construction of a wireless environmental monitoring network at Angelo, which will be available to support other basic environmental research at the site.  CBC's support, while small in dollar amounts, has been crucial in triggering and leveraging these field-based programs and initiatives.  For example, the CBC-funded "Spiraling Workshop" at Angelo last March has just yielded a $ 0.6 million NSF grant funding the study of how the natural history (diets and elemental composition) of organisms and their interactions in food webs influence nutrient fluxes down Angelo's river drainage networks. 


One of the potentially largest nationally-funded ecological projects in history is NEON (the National Ecological Observatory Network.  The process of developing NEON has taken years, and the involvement of many people across the United States.  CBC Director Power and Associate Director Mishler, along with a number of other UC Berkeley faculty, have been involved heavily in the national process.  Regionally, the CBC has been one of the main sponsors of the California node for NEON called the California Ecological Observatory Network (CalEON) - a regional network of field sites, natural history museums, and university labs which will, hopefully, ultimately obtain considerable federal funding as a node in the NEON network. CBC has provided funding for organizational and planning meetings, and also design work and most of the information content for the CalEON website.  CBC will be one of the lead units in future proposals relating to CalEON.