News | January 24, 2017

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FGCU hosts major biodiversity conference

This March FGCU students and faculty will have an opportunity to learn from leading world experts and showcase their own research at a major scientific conference on biodiversity.

The College of Arts & Sciences, Office of Undergraduate Scholarship and Departments of Biology and Marine and Ecological Sciences will co-host “Conserving Biodiversity: Challenges for Florida in the Anthropocene” March 7-9.

The goals of the inaugural conference are: to share important science on biodiversity conservation; emphasize the relevance of biodiversity loss to restoration projects, ecosystem services, economic and social issues; and elevate dialogue on biodiversity among scientists, educators and policy makers. Three sessions with six to eight presentations each will explore the themes of climate change, invasive species and habitat loss – three environmental challenges Florida faces in the current geological age, which is affected primarily by human activity (aka “anthropocene”).

“FGCU is the perfect location for this conference,” says Billy Gunnels, associate biology professor and Director of Undergraduate Scholarship. “The campus is a model for how we can develop in an integrated environment between human and wild landscapes. We call FGCU a ‘living laboratory.’ One of the reasons I came here was because I realized that I could take students from the classroom into the wild.”

“We initiated this conference because of the environmental focus of the university and the type of faculty and students attracted to the school. We have a large group of people interested in issues of the environment, including biodiversity. We wanted to provide an opportunity to exchange information about science, research and scholarly efforts and get some leading individuals down here who do premier work on these topics.”

Key speakers are: Reed Noss, University of Central Florida professor and president of the Florida Institute for Conservation Science, who will give the opening plenary presentation; Thomas Lovejoy, George Mason University professor and founder of the PBS series “Nature”; Thomas Hoctor of the University of Florida; and Daniel Simberloff of the University of Tennessee.

During the session on habitat loss, FGCU Professor Emeritus Jerome A. Jackson will discuss impacts of forest fragmentation and management on biodiversity and conservation of the red-cockaded woodpecker.

Students and faculty are invited to showcase their research in a poster session March 7. Details and registration information are available on the conference website.

An essay competition is being held for students to award scholarships to attend the conference. A 250-word statement explaining why they want to attend the conference is due by Jan. 31 for consideration. The heading information should include the date, full name, mailing address, student ID number, institutional affiliation, program and year of study. (Identifying details are not part of the 250-word text.) Essays will be evaluated based on overall quality and content, including how attendance at the conference will support studies or career aspirations. Priority may be given to FGCU students, although any students are encouraged to apply. A PDF of the essay should be emailed to [email protected].

The conference is open to anyone interested in the topics, but registration is required.

Why should nonscientists care about biodiversity — the number, variety and abundance of different organisms in a location? It indicates a stable, resilient environment, according to Gunnels.

“I like to start out with ‘because it’s joyful’ — it’s really nice to hear birds, see plants, find flowers. There is joy in the variety of life. But there are also very pragmatic reasons. Our water, air and food are contingent on the environment. If the soil lacks biodiversity, it will not produce food for a long period of time.  Water is less clean without high biodiversity — marshes and wetlands clarify and purify water. Our air is cleaner because plants remove pollutants.

“Biodiversity is one of the easier things to overlook, but it’s very central to our survival and success.”