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UW Pivots in Biodiversity Science

July 27, 2018

The University of Wyoming is working to position itself as a national and global leader in biodiversity science.

“The goal is to develop a world-leading, sustainable, integrated research, education and outreach enterprise that will serve the state and the nation,” says Vice President for Research and Economic Development Ed Synakowski.

Resources that will support this include the recently approved Science Initiative facility, as well as state and federally supported research programs. These programs span the scales of biodiversity, ranging from soil microbes to migrations of large mammals, all informed by the science of water distribution that is at the foundation of biodiversity.

“The potential is for UW to lead the nation in developing an understanding of biodiversity from its scientific foundations,” Synakowski says. “This will be invaluable in providing information to policymakers, business leaders and citizens as they make decisions in matters ranging from water resource management to environmental impacts and land remediation strategies. Further, enabled by the Haub School at UW, we have the opportunity to convene constructive discussions with these stakeholders in matters where an understanding of biodiversity is essential.”

Key to elevating the profile of biodiversity science has been the Biodiversity Institute (BI). The BI was established in 2012 with generous funding from Robert and Carol Berry through the Wolf Creek Charitable Foundation. Their earlier donations -- matched by the Wyoming Legislature -- made possible construction of the Berry Biodiversity Conservation Center on the UW campus.

However, Synakowski says, campuswide biodiversity research and outreach need to be grounded in a broad base of federal, state and private support -- and well-coupled to the science that is the university’s educational and research focus -- if it is to flourish.

“We have a chance to pivot off of the successes enabled by the generosity and vision of the Berrys toward a tremendous future. But that requires that we evolve as an institution,” he says.

In this transition, the BI will close in December, university leadership decided earlier this week.

“We have to put biodiversity research and outreach on a robust path that is strongly linked to the research thrusts of the campus,” Synakowski says. “We will leverage the public awareness that the Berrys’ contributions have enabled with UW’s research in biodiversity and its renewed commitment to public engagement and outreach as outlined in UW’s strategic plan, ‘Breaking Through.’ The Berry Biodiversity Conservation Center, the building that hosts the BI, will be home to an enlarged set of activities that is essential to enable this new vision.”

In recent years, the BI has focused on citizen science programs and K-12 outreach in Wyoming, with such activities as regular moose counts and programs for elementary students to visit the Berry Center. There are five staff members presently affiliated with the BI. Gary Beauvais, who has been serving as interim director, will move back as the full-time director of the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database (WYNDD). A component of UW’s foundation in biodiversity research, WYNDD offers the most complete source of data for species and vegetation communities of conservation concern in Wyoming. The university will explore whether the BI’s other staff members can move into other positions at UW.

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