Disappearing act

Disappearing act

Species extinction is occurring at an unprecedented rate, and the Beaty Biodiversity Centre provides a new home for finding solutions.
March 17, 2010

(Courtesy of Frontier magazine, University of British Columbia)

A commitment to both discovery and education places the Beaty Biodiversity Centre in a unique position to safeguard our natural heritage by bringing together outstanding researchers, exceptional facilities, and the public to better understand and help arrest threats to biodiversity.

The new Centre is a $50-million complex that includes the Biodiversity Research Centre, an interdisciplinary academic unit at UBC that connects more than 50 internationally renowned scientists dedicated to the study of biodiversity through research exploring the effects of climate change, pollution, habitat destruction, and other threats to survival.

“The Research Centre is a new focal point for researchers who study biodiversity to pool their collective insights, with the goal of better understanding the existing diversity of life, the factors that led to its evolution, and the present-day risks faced by species and ecosystems,” says evolutionary biologist Sarah Otto, who directs the Centre. “Coupling the Research Centre with the Beaty Biodiversity Museum allows us an opportunity to engage the community at large, facilitating an appreciation for biodiversity and its importance to our well-being.”

The Beaty Biodiversity Museum holds six unique collections (see sidebar). When the Museum opens its doors in 2010, the public will be able to explore UBC’s spectacular biological collections through a combination of museum exhibits, discovery labs, educators’ resources, and public presentations. More than two million specimens of plants, insects, fish, vertebrates, fungi, and fossils showcase stunning natural history, both local and global. For example, a specimen of fossilized blue-green algae represents the oldest evidence of life on Earth and visitors will be able to sneak a peek at newly discovered jumping spiders from Papua New Guinea.

“This is the first time in UBC’s history that these collections are coming together under one umbrella,” says Jeannette Whitton, Associate Professor of Botany and Director of the UBC Herbarium, which is based at the Museum and is home to the world’s largest assortment of B.C. plants. “The interdisciplinary approach [of the Museum] gives UBC an incredible edge towards strengthening research efforts related to biodiversity threats.”

The world’s biodiversity is vanishing at an alarming rate, with one bird out of eight, one conifer out of four, and one amphibian out of three threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

“We have an opportunity for our collections to become a community jewel,” says Whitton. “The public needs to witness this diversity first-hand to understand the value of protecting it.”

Whitton believes the Beaty Biodiversity Museum is well-positioned to facilitate the research of biodiversity scientists worldwide. Scientists from other universities have regularly borrowed specimens — formerly housed in various sites on campus — for research activities such as extracting DNA from a rare plant specimen dried 100 years ago. Reference specimens are also used to identify suspected contraband materials seized at the border.

In addition, UBC investigators are involved in national and international research partnerships. The Herbarium is currently partnering with other institutions to combine data from herbarium and insect collections in Canada. The ambitious Canadensys project, funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, will give decision-makers unprecedented access to biodiversity data through a Web portal.

With its members working to decipher local and global challenges in maintaining biodiversity, the Beaty Biodiversity Centre demonstrates UBC’s commitment to research excellence and to open community dialogue on issues of public concern.

Major funding for the Beaty Biodiversity Centre has come from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Government of British Columbia and a gift from UBC alumni Ross and Trisha Beaty.

The Beaty Biodiversity Centre

This $50-million project will house the Biodiversity Research Centre and the Beaty Biodiversity Museum.

The Biodiversity Research Centre is an academic unit comprising more than 50 internationally renowned scientists dedicated to the study of biodiversity. Interdisciplinary working groups study the biological forces that produce and sustain biodiversity, as well as the forces that lead to extinction, and the local and global consequences of species loss. 

The Beaty Biodiversity Museum is a new public museum dedicated to building understanding and appreciation of biodiversity and to making research conducted at the Biodiversity Research Centre accessible to the public. In 2010 it will open its doors and showcase more than two million specimens of plants, insects, fish, shells, birds, mammals, and fossils.