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The director of the University of Wyoming Biodiversity Institute is one of the co-authors of an article in a prestigious scholarly journal making the case for the study of natural history.
Carlos Martinez del Rio, also a UW Department of Zoology and Physiology professor, joins 16 colleagues from around the United States and Canada in arguing that society would benefit from a revitalization of natural history research.
The article appears in the latest edition of BioScience, the journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences.
“Direct knowledge of organisms -- what they are, where they live, what they eat, why they behave the way they do, how they die -- remains vital to science and society,” the article reads. “The benefits of careful observation of organisms in their environment and the costs of pursuing environmental policies in which this critical component of science is ignored can be seen in human health, food security, conservation and management.”
The authors note that natural history has played a major role in improving human health, including research to combat diseases including cholera. Through the development of proper agricultural practices, food production also has benefited from the discipline. So have conservation and land management practices.
Specifically, the article notes that the collective focus on natural history by hunters, anglers, wildlife watchers and conservationists in the early 20th century helped save North American waterfowl species and established the successful waterfowl management system of today.
Unfortunately, exposure and training in natural history has dropped steadily over the past 50 years, as measured by declines in college coursework and biology textbooks, the article says. That trend may be linked to a more general decline in public engagement with nature in the United States.
The authors present a number of ideas for revitalizing natural history to better connect science and society, and they argue that the discipline must incorporate new technologies and focus on new frontiers in a rapidly changing world.
Martinez del Rio has been a UW faculty member for 21 years. He came to UW from Princeton University, where he held his first academic position. He received his doctoral degree in zoology from the University of Florida.
He became the first director of UW’s Biodiversity Institute -- a division of the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources -- in 2012. The institute is dedicated to research, education and outreach concerning the study of living organisms in Wyoming and beyond.