Life on Earth has an explicit and dynamic spatial and environmental context that is increasingly perturbed by anthropogenic climate and land cover change. The genetic and phenotypic make-up of populations, the occurrence of species and their respective roles for ecological function and human health, the make-up of biological communities and ecosystems and their services for humans – all are critically determined by the specific geographic and abiotic setting that organisms have evolved into over often long times scales. Environmental change, occurring at much faster rates than at almost any time in the Earth’s history, is now perturbing many of these links.
The exact compound consequences of this rapid global change are determined by a complex interplay of biological processes – such as movement and dispersal, competition, or adaptation – and the spatial and temporal dimension of environmental change. Fast-growing environmental, biological, and socioeconomic information, supported by innovations in technology and informatics, have fueled significant advances in the concepts and theory supporting the study of biodiversity and environmental change at planetary scale. These scientific opportunities are able to address increasingly specific and urgent requests from society, policy, and business to provide assessments or decision-support. One example is the recently formed Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), including over 120 member governments and 1,000 scientists worldwide.
Scientific advances across multiple areas can offer vital contributions to address this societal need. Many key innovations center around the previously unthinkable amount, extent, and detail of spatial, environmental, genetic, and functional data. As examples, spatial biodiversity data is growing rapidly and seeing integration toward indicators directly usable resource management, GPS-based tracking technology is enabling meter-precision capture of thousands of organisms simultaneously, citizen scientists are providing millions of species observations, and remotely sensed information is starting to allow environmental characterization at organismal level. This emergence of ‘big data’ for biodiversity and global change research has been accompanied by the development of ever-more sophisticated informatics tools that facilitate data integration, analysis, and communication. These developments have begun to revolutionize the study of biodiversity dynamics and their implications for humans.
Many of these new and interdisciplinary scientific developments have to date only seen limited representation in university curricula. Addressing the future challenges arising from a changing planet requires training the next generation of scientists and decision-makers about the ways to gage and interpret the signals of biological change.
The Yale Center for Biodiversity and Global Change is an interdisciplinary academic hub for research, and education that sets out to address this challenge. It aims to connect the Yale community engaged in environmental, biological science, computer, and health sciences, and develop new project and training opportunities across academic units.
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