Microbes_to_Ecosystems_RGBIn April 2015, the University of Florida and the University Press of Florida launched Gatorbytes, a digital book series following the innovative research taking place at UF. Intended to pique the interests of the intellectually curious and to share the stories behind the discoveries being made at UF, the books are written by professional journalists. 

“They know how to take complex material, break it down into manageable chunks and tell a story,” says Meredith Babb, director of the University Press of Florida.

We’re taking a closer look at each of the works in the Gatorbytes series to spotlight the journalists working to share these amazing projects and to offer even more behind-the-scenes information about the groundbreaking research.

 

 

In Microbes to Ecosystems: Charting Biodiversity through InformaticsBlake D. Edgar introduces readers to the University of Florida Biodiversity Institute (UFBI), part of UF’s Preeminence Initiative. The institute’s mission focuses on discovering and tracking biodiversity globally, researching the various ways to protect it, and sharing that information with the public.

“What our Biodiversity Institute is really all about is encouraging and enabling a very broad range of biodiversity research, particularly from the perspective of big data,” UFBI’s director Pam Soltis tells Edgar.

Collecting data has become easier and easier. At just one site, the Ordway-Swisher Biological Station, researchers gain insight into a diverse range of habitats representative of those once found across the state.

 

But it’s putting the data to use that remains the next step in protecting the environment and its natural systems.

That’s where the work of UF scientists comes in.

 

The institute began with a meeting that included Larry Page, curator of fishes at the Florida Museum of Natural History and project director for IDigBio.

 

Larry Page met with curator of mammals, David Reed, to discuss how to combine the efforts of scientists across campus. Together, Reed and museum director Douglas Jones proposed the institute, which would finally come to fruition in 2016.

The UFBI has partnered with the Florida Museum of Natural History to fulfill their goals. In one endeavor, Doug Soltis, distinguished professor in the Florida Museum of Natural History and department of biology at the University of Florida, has put together data from 11 different institutions to create the first universal tree of life, representing interconnections of Earth’s biodiversity.

 

To bring the public into these efforts, Museum Curator of Informatics Rob Guralnick and Yale ecologist Walter Jetz developed the app, “The Map of Life.” Guralnick also later created Notes for Nature

 

Behind these projects is the hope that we can protect the Earth’s vanishing resources.

 

To learn more about the institute, read Microbes to Ecosystems: Charting Biodiversity through Informatics for the full story. This and other Gatorbytes can be found on our website.

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