PCAST Notice/Request

Peter Rauch anamaria at GRINNELL.BERKELEY.EDU
Fri Jul 25 23:08:49 CDT 1997

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date  Fri, 25 Jul 1997 18:25:13 -0400
>From Joel Cracraft <jlc at amnh.org>
To   TAXACOM-Request at cmsa.Berkeley.EDU

Please post the following message on Taxacom. Thanks, Joel Cracraft

Dear Colleagues

The President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) has
created a Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystems that will make
recommendations to the President this December on needs and priorities in
science to support the management of the nation's biological resources.
Within the context of that report there will be a section that summarizes
current knowledge, needs, and priorities in the area of inventorying those
resources (from the level of genes to that of ecosystems).

One element of this portion of the report will be an attempt to prioritize
the needs and priorities of systematic inventories.  Our first cut at
organizing this is around the seven user groups identified in the SA2000
documents, namely (1) applied health and medical research industries, (2)
biotechnology, (3) agriculture and fisheries, (4) forest products
industries, (5) conservation and resource management, (6)
ecotourism/recreation, and (7) basic biological research.   We would also
like to identify those groups whose inventories would be especially
critical for describing, investigating, or monioring ecosystem structure
and function.

This report will concern itself with United States resource management, and
thus we want to examine information concerned with inventories within the
United States (and contiguous areas, if the knowledge does not allow a
distinction).  Of course, we realize that taxon-based research cannot
easily be constrained geographically and we will indeed fold that idea into
the document, as we will the notion that the United States cannot be the
sole focus of biodiversity research in general.

We need the following information from the perspective of your expertise.
Remember, this refers to the U.S. biota!

1. From the point of view of each of these targeted user communities, what
ten taxonomic groups should be inventoried first?  Can the list for each
user community itself be prioritized?  Do not try to list all the groups
that might be important, because obviously user group (7) would encompass
virtually all groups.  Please do not see this as a vehicle to push your own
favorite group but bring your judgment to bear on the question.  We will
need to justify our rankings.  If you think a group is important, but do
not know its systematics very well, give us a name (and e-mail) of someone
to contact.  Give us a few sentences of justification for each of your

2. Approximately, how many species are currently known in each group?
Approximately how many species are estimated for each group?

3. If two time lines, 5 and 10 years out, were set, how many taxonomists
and support personnel would be required to inventory the group?  Another
way to think about the problem might be to estimate what percentage of the
group might be inventoried within those time frames.  By inventory we mean:
the discovery and characterization of the species in the specified group,
and a general picture of their distribution.  We do not mean a
sophisticated monographic understanding of their phylogenetic
relationships.  Clearly, phylogeny provides the framework for organizing
biodiversity informatics and our overall understanding, so the inventories
and subsequent studies should be conducted in such a way as to contribute
substantially to phylogenetic analysis.

4. Once a prioritized listing is achieved, we plan to recommend levels of
funding for activities needed to achieve inventories at that level.  What
would this effort cost for the groups you identified?  We want to be as
clear as possible about the accuracy of our figures.  For some groups,
taxonomic expertise already exists; for others it does not.  In a 10-year
time frame, there probably will not be time to gear up a major education
effort to train new systematists.  So, minimally, we would like an estimate
of how many taxonomist-years it would take, and how much
collection/research support will be needed.  General figures are fine.  We
know that some groups could not possibly be completed in 10 years,
therefore if those groups are important, which subgroups should have
highest priority and why?

If you have any succinct and published justifications for the choice of
certain groups over others (that were not included in any of the SA2000
documents/symposia, etc), let us know.

We stress that this exercise is crucially important.  The report goes
directly to the President from PCAST and, if it is compelling, will be used
by the administration to make federal budget recommendations.  This
represents our greatest opportunity in quite some time to realize some of
the goals of SA2000 and the biodiversity science community in general.  If
we do not have the best attainable information to support our
recommendations, those recommendations will not be made.

We need this information as soon as possible.  We are on a very fast track
and need to pull together draft documents right away in order to feed into
a lengthy review process.  We are therefore asking that you get this
information to us within one week (by 1 August).  We apologize for the
haste but we have not be given much time to complete this very large task.

We would appreciate this information be sent to us via e-mail.  If you want
further information, contact Joel.  Please feel free to pass this letter on
to colleagues who might be interested.

Thanks in advance for undertaking this important exercise,

Peter H. Raven, Chairman Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystems (praven at nas.edu)
Meredith Lane, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of
the President (malane at nsf.gov)
Joel Cracraft, member, Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystems (jlc at amnh.org)

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