Top Scientists Challenge Others: Join Biodiversity Year

February 02, 1998

Human activities now dominate the natural systems of the planet, according to Stanford ecologist Harold Mooney. "In a very real sense, we cannot escape responsibility for managing our impact on those systems. It's time for scientists to take stock of what we know, and what we need to learn, so society can act on that responsibility."

That is why Mooney and four other internationally prominent scientists are calling on their colleagues worldwide to join forces in a one- to two-year assessment of the state of biodiversity on Earth. On Friday, Feb. 13, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Philadelphia, the five ­ including two past presidents of AAAS ­ will introduce plans for the International Biodiversity Observation Year, to begin in 2001. "We're asking the world's best scientists to take a year or two to put their minds to this problem: How can biodiversity science be elevated to the forefront of the scientific agenda?" said Mooney, who is professor of biological sciences at Stanford and secretary-general of the International Council of Scientific Unions. Mooney is co-organizer of the AAAS symposium with population ecologist José Sarukhán, professor and former rector of UNAM, the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Sarukhán, currently a visiting professor at the Center for Conservation Biology and the Center for Latin American Studies at Stanford, is the chair of a committee of scientists who have volunteered to organize the International Biodiversity Observation Year ­ dubbed IBOY.

He and Mooney will be joined in the symposium by three other prominent scientists. Microbiologist Rita Colwell is past president of AAAS and current president of the Biotechnology Institute at the University of Maryland; President Clinton recently announced his intention to nominate her as deputy director of the National Science Foundation. AAAS past president Jane Lubchenco, a marine ecologist at Oregon State University, is a member of the National Science Board. Evolutionary biologist Michael J. Donoghue is director of the Harvard University Herbaria.

The five are calling on their fellow scientists to join them at AAAS to discuss the program in its planning stages. They will discuss the urgent need to fill in the gaps of information about biodiversity at every level, from the genetic variability of individual species to the workings of ecosystems ­ and to add that to data about how human societies interact with and depend on natural systems. They'll suggest some short-term, intensive international projects that could achieve concrete results during IBOY. Among the projects already proposed for IBOY is a global census of deep-sea organisms, drawn from scientific collections around the world, to make photos and data about sea creatures available to all via the World Wide Web. Another project will launch a world-wide system to watch out for the health of coral reefs: scientists experienced in evaluating coral ecosystems will train scientists in tropical nations to monitor their own local reefs.

The project is to be coordinated by DIVERSITAS, a scientific program under the auspices of UNESCO, the International Council of Scientific Unions and other scientific societies. Its mission is to promote research on fundamental aspects of biodiversity, and to relate the results to policies on conservation and sustainable management.

"Most nations in world except the U.S. have ratified the 1992 Convention on Biodiversity," Sarukhán said. "The benefit of IBOY to these nations, and to the international organizations working with them on sustainability issues, will be scientific information to help fulfill the provisions of that convention."

Sarukhán said that IBOY is inspired by the International Geophysical Year in 1957, when scientists worked together across national and academic boundaries to advance knowledge about the earth, oceans and atmosphere. "Like the IGY, this process will focus on projects amenable to international cooperation in data collection, with room for scientists from developing nations to participate, however modestly. We expect to integrate what is already known and to add new data to advance the state of knowledge about biodiversity and earth's living systems."

Reporters1 Note: Background information will be available early in February at

DIVERSITAS is an international program headquartered in Paris. It was created in 1991 to stimulate Biodiversity Sciences, under the auspices of The International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE), the International Union of Biological Sciences (IUBS), the International Union of Microbiological Societies (IUMS) and the International Geosphere Biosphere Program (IGBP). DIVERSITAS Executive Director Colleen Adam can be reached at 33-1-45684054; e-mail

DIVERSITAS will maintain a web page to chronicle the progress of the International Biodiversity Observation Year, at

For more details about the AAAS annual meeting in Philadelphia, see

This article is available electronically at It also is available electronically on the national Eurekalert! web site ­

Stanford University

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