California Biodiversity Center 2001-2005:  Summary Statement part 2

Mary E. Power, Director

Brent D. Mishler, Associate Director

John Latto, Academic Coordinator

 

Challenges in maintaining this momentum

In its first five years, the CBC has succeeded in rationalizing and efficiently administering the campus natural history field stations through the Berkeley Natural History Museum support staff, in the office, now located within the MVZ, that is headed by Joyce Leighton. During the next five-year period it will be crucial to stabilize the core financial support for the field stations. "Extras" like research and training programs can be supported from extramural sources, but core infrastructure and staffing need to come from the campus. The most pressing concern is the lack of permanent campus funding for staff positions at Angelo Reserve. Until 2004, the Berkeley campus contributed about half of the $55,000 used annually to run the Angelo Reserve, largely for the salary and benefits of Peter Steel, the sole paid employee. The UC Office of the President contributed the other half (ca. $25-27 per year). The campus portion of this funding disappeared in 2005. That same year, the campus increased (from 26% off-campus rates to 52% on-campus rates) the overhead on the NSF funding that Angelo Reserve researchers have steadily attracted since 1990. In 2000, the Angelo Reserve received a $1.4 million award from the Goldman Fund and Packard Foundation for the construction of an Environmental Science Center. This new facility also requires a campus commitment for simple maintenance. The Angelo Reserve funding crisis has been temporarily solved by two years of emergency, stop-gap funding co-awarded to Angelo by VCR Beth Burnside and Director of the UCNRS Alex Glazer so that the Reserve does not need to shut down while hosting ongoing, large federally funded research programs. In the longer term, further progress and future goals of the CBC are untenable if campus support for basic staffing and maintenance at the heavily used field stations is not forthcoming.

 

Selected activities from 2001-2005 that supported the mission of the CBC

Over its first four and a half years, the CBC has sponsored a number of workshops, symposia and several targeted research collaborations that merged contemporary and historical approaches in field and museum science.  In addition to the training and research collaborations initiated at workshops and short courses, the CBC, using electronic media, enhances the communication of learning and research opportunities on campus and at the field stations.  We are presently developing a number of biological diversity and environmental databases with associated methodology and analyses, and educational tools,  that will also be made available on the web.  These are natural outcomes of our emphasis on projects that meld systematics and taxonomy (traditional emphases of museums) with the ecology and biogeochemistry (emphases of field stations).  For example, we have cosponsored taxonomic forays for students and faculty to visit reserves and inventory biodiversity, providing both research and teaching experiences as well as growing digital libraries and physical collections that will enhance the site-specific taxonomic and natural history information available to future users.  For another example, the CBC has provided seed money towards a novel project that will synthesize taxonomic knowledge with information about ecological traits, the Ecological Flora of California.  The project, led by Professor David Ackerly, is an expansion of the Jepson Manual (the bible of California plant taxonomy) into new areas, and will be web-accessible, fully integrated with existing resources on plant characteristics and distributions as part of the overarching Jepson Flora Project.

 

Lessons learned 

Like any new ORU the CBC has gone through a period of learning how best to spend time, money and energy. Although the outcome we are aiming for is clear (see mission statement), the means by which we can best achieve this goal are often far less clear. One thing we do not wish to do is to duplicate current effort. For example it was initially planned that the CBC would run an independent series of taxonomic forays, but, on contacting potential leaders, it became clear that they are already running plenty of such events in the Bay Area. The CBC has instead helped with co-sponsorship of such forays, for example the annual spring moss foray (providing money to allow students to attend). Here are three more examples of how the CBC has adjusted to find its niche within the larger community. Firstly, Berkeley suffers from no shortage of seminars but the CBC has found a valuable role in publicizing those seminars to a wider audience via a frequently updated weekly seminar list attracting several hundred visits every week and a total of over 12,000 hits in its two years of operation. Secondly, the CBC does not have the funding or the staffing to host large conferences.  By providing small amounts of sponsorship to existing small conferences, however, we have been able to attract them to the Berkeley campus and field stations. In the absence of such sponsorship these conferences would have either not happened or happened elsewhere. Examples include the Ecology and Management of California Grasslands conference held in 2004 with 30 speakers and 130 participants and the Declining Amphibian Populations Task Force Meeting held in 2005 with 36 speakers and 120 participants. In a third example, the CBC has been able to leverage its funding by combining with others to sponsor the early stages of larger projects, for example the support CBC has provided to formative workshops of the California Ecological Observatory Network (CalEON).