THE VALUE OF A BIOLOGICAL SURVEY FOR THE NATION
We Americans are increasingly aware of how much our well-being depends on the diversity of living organisms and the integrity of ecological communities. We depend directly on other species for new and improved sources of food, fiber, construction materials, and medicines. In addition, much of our economic base is related to income from all those resources and from tourism and recreation. For example, recreational hunting and fishing are enjoyed by tens of millions of Americans each year and create a major demand for the effective management of habitats that contain game species and other wildlife.
Natural diversity also has many indirect values. It is the source of genes from wild organisms that can be incorporated into domesticated species to improve production and to provide resistance to diseases and pests. Biodiversity is the foundation of biotechnology, an important and growing economic activity.
The nation's ecosystems provide such valuable environmental services as controlling floods, conserving and forming soils, assimilating pollutants, and moderating local climates. Loss of
ecological habitats has caused problems in each of these areas. In addition to those explicit ecological services, natural resources provide important recreational, aesthetic, and spiritual values to our culture.
Recognizing the value of its biological resources, this country has promulgated laws and policies to protect plants and animals from extinction. It has also demonstrated a strong commitment to wise, responsible, scientifically based stewardship of its biological resources through regulatory programs, acquisition of public lands, and an array of private conservation efforts. (As used in this report, the term biological resources refers to living organisms, their products, and the ecosystems in which they occur that are actually or potentially useful materially, ecologically, scientifically, or aesthetically or that are protected under law, treaty, or other legal instrument.)
Despite those endeavors, the nation's biological diversity is in decline, and there are many unanswered questions about how it should be managed to support sustainably all the goods and services on which we depend. For example, off Florida's Key Largo, coral reef area decreased in abundance by 30% in the last 20 years (Wilson, 1992). In the United States alone, over 760 species of fishes, crayfish, and fresh-water mussels (44% of all the species in these groups) are considered to be at risk (Stein, 1992); only 70 (24%) of the 297 species of freshwater mussels in the United States are considered to have stable populations (Williams et al., 1993). A national survey of endangered species of plants conducted in 1988 revealed that over 780 native taxa (of a total of some 20,000 species) are facing possible extinction by the end of the 1990s (Falk, 1991). Additional taxa are added to the list annually as new threats are discovered and the decline of populations continues.
Nationally, 775 species of plants and animals have been listed as threatened or endangered, and there is an enormous backlog of candidate species that have been nominated for listing. Recovery programs have been developed for only about half the listed
species and have been implemented for fewer. It should be clear that the nation is facing a decline in its living natural resources and, more important, that the current legal and institutional structures are inadequate to protect these resources.
Human activities are widely recognized to be a major contributor to the decline. The rapid and continuing growth in the land occupied by our metropolitan areas and our patterns of resource development and use are both putting pressure on the country's ecological systems. The broad extent of the pressure and its specific effects are poorly understood.
Declines in the quantity and quality of the nation's biological resources are due in part to a lack of basic knowledge of its biota, ignorance of trends, and inefficient use of existing information. We do not know how our alteration and degradation of ecosystems affect their ability to provide in a sustainable way the goods and services on which our society depends, nor do we understand the impacts of human activities on these ecosystems. We do not even know, for many groups of organisms, how many species occur in the United States and where they live. In many of these cases, and even among many species that are known, we have little information about their ecological relationships.
Such a lack of information is critical because we continually make important, and often irreversible, decisions concerning these resources. The societal consequences to society of these deficiencies are certain to increase in the future. The constantly growing pressures of human society on the environment guarantee that maintaining the functional integrity of ecological systems will become ever more difficult. (By functional integrity we mean the capacity of communities to maintain their productivity, cycling of nutrients, and species composition in the face of environmental stresses. A community has lost its functional integrity when it is no longer capable of maintaining those functional attributes.) The consequences of loss of or harm to natural resources are costly to both the public and private sectors.
Frustration with the current process is now shared among
natural-resource users and managers, scientists, and the public at large. No clear national agenda or strategy exists for integrating the many programs directed at understanding our biological resources.
Recognizing the need for change and a better means of informing its own decision-making efforts, the Department of the Interior (DOI) is in the process of reorganizing to form a new agency, the National Biological Survey (NBS). The NBS will not be a survey in the everyday sense of the word, although it will include strong survey-like elements. The purpose of this Committee of the National Research Council (NRC), entitled the Committee on the Formation of the National Biological Survey, is to provide guidance as to the scope and direction of the NBS in the context of both national needs and those within DOI.
As identified in its FY 1994 budget justification to Congress, the mission of this new agency is ''to gather, analyze, and disseminate the information necessary for the wise stewardship of our Nation's natural resources, and to foster an understanding of our biological systems and the benefits they provide to society. The NBS will act as an independent science bureau [within DOI] without advocating positions on resource management issues and without regulatory or land and water development authorities.''
To create the NBS, the Secretary of the Interior has proposed combining substantial portions of the biological research and survey activities in three DOI bureaus—the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the National Park Service (NPS), and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)—with smaller portions of five other departments—the Minerals Management Service, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the Bureau of Mines.
The committee believes that the National Biological Survey will be a critical first step toward assembling a comprehensive assessment of the nation's biological resources. However, to achieve the best possible results, there must be a coordinated national
effort that draws on existing programs and strengths at all organizational and jurisdictional levels. The work of the NBS must be integrated with the continuing efforts of other relevant federal agencies, state surveys, museums, academic institutions, and other entities. This joint, integrated enterprise can be called the National Partnership for Biological Survey (NPBS). This National Partnership would be a new national, multisector program to facilitate the collection, housing, assessment, and use of scientific information needed to understand the current and historical state of the nation's biological resources, how that state is changing and projected to change, and the natural and human-induced causes of the changes. The NPBS would provide a substantial amount of new information and much more powerful opportunities for analysis than those available now. It would provide the scientific information that is needed to develop appropriate strategies for managing our nation's biological resources (including mitigation and restoration), their use, and their preservation.
Although the Partnership will necessarily be a highly collaborative undertaking, it will require clear leadership to be coordinated effectively. With the formation of the National Biological Survey, the committee believes that the most logical federal leader is DOI. The mission and mandates of the department encompass broad research and management responsibilities for the natural resources of the nation. DOI also has strong links to key nonfederal partners, including the states and universities. By initiating the formation of the National Biological Survey, the department has implicitly indicated its willingness to take on this role. After examining various alternative possibilities, the committee concluded that no other federal office or agency possesses all the necessary characteristics. The regulatory focus of such agencies as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can create problems in an attempt to lead the kinds of long-term research efforts that the National Partnership will need to perform (NRC 1985, 1993b). Other agencies are either more narrowly focused on specific components of the nation's biological resources—e.g., the Na-
tional Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration focuses on marine environments, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture focuses on forests and agricultural systems—or do not have management responsibilities or as strong ties to key users as does DOI.
Many of the elements of the National Partnership already exist. Thousands of scientists are working on relevant projects and programs scattered throughout federal, state, and local agencies; academe; museums; nongovernment organizations; and the private sector. But major elements are missing and must be supplied if an effective National Partnership is to be created. In addition to some key additional programmatic components, the NPBS will need effective mechanisms for horizontal and vertical integration and coordination. This report will identify key needs that the new National Partnership should address and recommend ways to supply the missing elements. Some of the recommendations in this report are directed specifically to the National Biological Survey and some to the National Partnership. The latter class also applies to NBS in its proposed role as leader of the NPBS. The committee recognizes that various factors may affect the specific form that the Partnership eventually takes but believes that the functions and needs identified in its findings and recommendations are relevant to any attempt to create a biological survey for the nation.
Recommendation 1-1: The United States, under the leadership of the Department of the Interior, should establish a National Partnership for Biological Survey. This will be a new national, multisector, cooperative program of federal, state, and local agencies; museums; academic institutions; and private organizations. The purpose will be to collect, house, assess, and provide access to the scientific information needed to understand the status of the nation's biological resources, the trends in the changes of that status, and the causes of those changes.
PURPOSE OF THE NATIONAL PARTNERSHIP FOR BIOLOGICAL SURVEY
Some common weaknesses exist in the availability of information to address the issues discussed above and later in this chapter. In some instances, data have been collected but are not organized in useful ways. In many cases, data are unavailable, have not been collected over a sufficiently long time for trends to be separated from short-term variations, have been collected only in a few localities, or have not been recorded in a format that can be used to make decisions about the management, use, and conservation of the nation's biological resources.
Many national and local agencies and organizations have responsibilities for understanding and managing the nation's biological resources, but there is no effective cross-institutional framework for identifying and conducting research of the highest priority, coordinating among current and future research activities, or making information available in a coherent and usable way to the many agencies and other organizations that have responsibilities for protecting, restoring, and managing biological resources.
The National Partnership for Biological Survey, designed to remedy these deficiencies and weaknesses, would have the abilities to generate new information; to manage, analyze, and interpret the information through the development and use of organized databases; and to communicate information in appropriate and readily understood formats to a wide variety of users. The purpose of the National Partnership is to develop the scientific basis for effective protection, restoration, use, and management of the nation's biological resources. More specifically, its objectives are to document and assess past and present status and trends of the nation's biota and ecological systems, to predict future trends, to analyze and interpret available data on biological resources, and to provide information to those responsible for managing, utilizing, and conserving those resources.
PARTICIPANTS IN THE NATIONAL PARTNERSHIP FOR BIOLOGICAL SURVEY
The institutions and other elements described below are obvious contributors to the goals and objectives of the NPBS. The group is heterogeneous, and participants will vary in the nature and extent of their participation. Many already produce relevant information. Others have responsibility for major components of the nation's biological resources and, in the opinion of the committee, should benefit from developing or participating in programs and other activities that contribute to information about these resources.
Department of the Interior. DOI is the nation's largest land manager and the steward of many of the wild living resources of the United States. It also has wide-ranging hands-on responsibility for its trust lands and a historically strong partnership with the states. Elements within DOI that have important land-management responsibilities include BLM, NPS, and FWS. The USGS will be especially important with respect to the kinds of interdisciplinary research that will be critical for the success of the National Partnership (see Box 1.1). Other bureaus have regulatory responsibilities and pertinent expertise. All will need to interact closely with the NBS and will be involved with the National Partnership as users or participants.
National Biological Survey. The NBS will provide scientific research and information to help DOI manage the lands within its bureaus and manage species for which it has legal responsibility (as well as lands that affect either of the above); it is also the appropriate agency to assume leadership and vision for the NPBS. In name and intent, the NBS should be a catalyst for the National Partnership, providing a forum for efforts to coordinate the actions of the participants in the NPBS.
Other federal agencies. Several other federal agencies conduct programs and activities that will be important elements of
Box 1.1: Three Examples of the Importance of Geological Information
Geologic Habitat of the Mexican Spotted Owl in Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico
Some 113,000 acres were surveyed for Mexican Spotted Owls in the Jemez and Cuba Ranger Districts of Santa Fe National Forest. A total of 18 territories were found. All core areas and roosting and nesting locations are in canyons with steep cliffs. All nests were in cliffs in narrow canyons. No nests or roosts were on mesa tops in either district. Foraging habitat is diverse, ranging from mixed conifer with heavy overstory to open, nonforested areas in an old forest-fire burn in the Jemez District. Nest sites, especially in the Jemez District and the eastern portion of the Cuba District, are in steep canyons exposing a volcano-stratigraphic unit identified by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) as the Otowi member of the Bandelier Tuff. The Otowi member is 600 ft thick and is a nonwelded to densely welded ash flow (incandescent avalanche) deposit, characteristically containing abundant accidental pumice and lithic fragments. As mapped by USGS, it includes 0-30 ft of basal, bedded, air-fall pumice. The steep canyons, whose walls consist of Otowi, provide shelter, owing to deep pockets formed in the canyon walls from the weathering out of large pumice fragments. The deep pockets provide a cool nest in summer, warmth in the winter, and protection from severe rain and snow storms. The single exception to the Otowi outcrop association is a spotted owl territory in the Cuba District in the Golondrino Diversity unit. Owls there also nest in steep-walled canyons, but the cliffs are composed of sandstone with deep joints (fissures). In the 1992 nesting season, a pair of the owls nested in a tree adjacent to the canyon walls. These cliffs and canyons in the Jemez and Cuba Ranger Districts can be classified as important habitat. The mesa tops beyond a quarter of a mile on either side of the canyons can be classified as potential foraging habitat.
Geologic Habitat of the California Desert Tortoise
To comply with the Endangered Species Act, Department of Defense officials issued a contract to a consulting firm to determine the popula-
tion of desert tortoises on one of its bases in the Mojave Desert. Field biologists went about the time-consuming task of trying to develop and implement an effective method to count the tortoises. The fact that they tend to burrow to escape the searing desert heat made the task difficult. After many frustrating months, one of the biologists crossed paths with a geologist who was studying earthquakes and environmental hazards in the region. The geologist was using satellite images and geologic maps covering the tortoise area. The biologists immediately noticed a spatial correlation between concentrations of tortoises and what they termed "the green splotches on the image." The geologist explained that "the green splotches" represented a particular rock type (a unique metamorphic rock) that weathered to soil more rapidly in the desert climate than outcrops of all the other rocks that surround it. The geologist hypothesized that the tortoise had defined its habitat on the basis of geology, reasoning that the need to burrow had caused the animals to seek out readily "diggable" substrates. Given this insight, the biologists went about the task of mapping tortoise habitat in other areas of the military base on the basis of the images' ''green splotches," thus saving substantial time and cost (R. Dokka, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, pers. commun., Sept. 1, 1993).
Geologic Habitat of the Red Hills Salamander
The Red Hills salamander (Phaeognathus hubrichti) is a plethodontid salamander whose entire range is confined to a small area of southern Alabama (Dodd, 1991). The salamander is federally listed as threatened and prefers forested, steep-sloped ravines, and bluff faces for its habitat. International Paper's Forest Environmental Quality Guidelines for managing its habitat (adopted in March 1977) cover almost 30,000 acres of forest located within the salamander's historic range and require periodic population surveys.
During the company's soil survey of its southern ownership, soil scientists examined this area in detail because of its unique geological characteristics and the presence of this species. As the survey proceeded, the scientists were able consistently to predict where salamander burrows would occur on the basis of geologic formation and slope with-
in the Red Hills physiographic province. This province consists of hilly terrain of Eocene age that comprises two principal formations, the Tallahatta and Hatchetigbee. The Red Hills salamander is found predominantly in the Tallahatta Formation, which consists of claystone, gray thin-bedded siltstone, and various yellowish gray sands and clays. When the species is observed in the Hatchetigbee Formation, outcroppings of the Tallahatta occur in close proximity.
In early 1992, a population survey was conducted in conjunction with the Alabama Natural Heritage Program (J. McGlincy, W. Dennis, S. Hindman, and S.G. Haines, International Paper Co., Bainbridge, GA, unpublished material, June 3, 1993). The survey was designed to focus on topography and geology identified in the soil survey as most likely to be occupied by the salamander but also included a representative sample of nontypical habitat. Ninety-two percent of survey sites occupied by the salamander occurred on the Tallahatta/Hatchetigbee formations with slopes of 30% or greater.
Soils underlain by or containing siltstone outcrops are the primary habitat determinant. Such sites are typically forested with mature hardwood or mixed hardwood-pine stands that occur on steep slopes. The siltstone, which is moist and easy to burrow through, and the microclimate created by the overstory provide the moist environment required for the salamander's survival.
The integration of population, soil, geologic formation, slope, and vegetative data permits a more refined characterization of preferred habitat for the Red Hills salamander and its occurrence on company lands. This ensures that the habitat is adequately protected during the course of regular forestry activities.
the NPBS. Among them are the Forest Service and Soil Conservation Service in the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), where the Agricultural Research Service likewise has important capabilities in the taxonomy and inventory of many noxious and pest species and their relatives; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the Department of Commerce, which has several units and programs concerned with marine and
coastal organisms and ecosystems; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which issues permits for the development of wetlands and coastal areas, constructs major public-works projects, and has extensive capabilities in freshwater biology; EPA, which has broad environmental responsibilities; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which is the lead agency in earth remote sensing, and is the largest sponsor of national and international global-change research; and the National Science Foundation, which provides grants for research into the systematics, ecology, and evolution of the nation's biological resources, making possible much of the research that takes place in universities and freestanding research institutions throughout the United States, and which also runs the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) program. EPA's Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program (EMAP—see Box 1.2) and the National Biological Survey are complementary programs with different but related missions. Although it is beyond the scope of this report to compare the two programs in detail, they clearly need to work together. An examination of EMAP is being conducted by another NRC committee which has issued an interim report (NRC, 1992).
In addition, the Department of Defense manages extensive land holdings through all four of the uniformed services, and each carries out activities pertinent to the National Biological Survey, pursuant to compliance with federal, state, and local laws and regulations and in connection with the long-term management of their lands.
States. All 50 states have natural-resource agencies responsible for the management of their fish and wildlife resources. Those agencies have a statutory mandate to protect, preserve, enhance, and manage some or all of the wildlife resources of the state for their esthetic, educational, scientific, economic, and recreational value. The state wildlife agencies have inventory and monitoring programs with substantial databases on many species.
About 20% of the states have biological surveys of long-estab-
Box 1.2: Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program (EMAP)
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has led the development of a large program designed to monitor the nation's natural resources, the Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program (EMAP). The EMAP has several components, including a nationwide grid for systematic collection of indicators of the status and trends of natural resources and several pilot projects for selected terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Several other federal agencies have participated in the EMAP as it has evolved over the last 5 years.
Because the EMAP will provide information on the conditions of natural resources, it will enrich the national database available to decision-makers and the scientific community. Thus, the NBS will not subsume or manage the EMAP, but will recognize that this program, like many others at all jurisdictional levels, will collect and make available information that will contribute to the goals of the NPBS. The NPBS will provide an organizational framework for assisting in the distribution of EMAP-derived information and for relating this information to other sources of data on the status and trends of biological resources. DOI and EPA should work to ensure that the NBS and the EMAP are properly coordinated.
lished (1836) to recent (1993) origin. The state surveys often have broad missions and comprehensive research and monitoring capabilities that are directly pertinent to the goals and objectives of the NPBS. State natural heritage data centers, coordinated nationally by The Nature Conservancy, exist in every state, although the organizational placement of the program varies from state to state. This network provides detailed information on endangered, threatened, and selected rare species, and an ecologically based inventory of areas of special importance are found in the state databases. (See Boxes 2.3, 2.4, and 3.2 for examples of how that information is used.)
The Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian Institution has proposed the establishment of a National Biodiversity Center to
help build its capabilities for dealing with biodiversity around the world, including the United States. The institution has devoted much effort to the development of specimen-based databases and is a national leader in this field. It hosts the Biological Survey Unit staff of FWS, and the National Marine Fisheries Service taxonomy groups, and systematists at USDA. The National Museum of Natural History houses extensive collections of organisms from the United States. The institution has the potential to become a major contributor to the NPBS, especially if it is successful in achieving the goals it has established for itself.
Museums. Museums generally, as collection stewards, are the major depositories of the biological specimens and associated data that constitute a primary source for the NPBS. Large nongovernment museums—such as the Missouri Botanical Garden, American Museum of Natural History, Field Museum of Natural History, Bishop Museum, New York Botanical Garden, Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, and California Academy of Sciences—are comparable with the Smithsonian Institution in the size and importance of their holdings and must be enlisted in the NPBS effort. Other large museums, such as the Florida Museum of Natural History, are affiliated with universities; they and such holders of extensive collections as the University of Michigan, University of Texas, Ohio State University, Cornell University, Harvard University, University of Kansas, and University of California are important not only because of the size and quality of their holdings, but because of the special and crucial role that they play, in their university settings, in training scientists for efforts like the NPBS. Museums and their scientific staffs are involved in specimen-gathering, identification, collection management, research, data development and analysis, and information dissemination. They not only will be the repositories of the specimens gathered during the course of pursuing the objectives of the NPBS, but should participate directly in planning the research effort and other activities.
Universities. Institutions of higher learning are a major
source of research on the nation's biological resources. Many are already involved in collaborative efforts, such as DOI's Cooperative Research Units and USDA's agricultural research programs. They are also the chief source of training in the scientific disciplines and methods that are crucial to an effective National Partnership.
Nongovernment organizations. Some private organizations, such as The Nature Conservancy and the National Audubon Society, are major landholders, managing land for the conservation of biological diversity. In addition, The Nature Conservancy has established a large-scale database in connection with its Heritage Program, which deals with endangered, threatened, and rare species throughout the United States. Organizations with a similar purpose, which also operate databases, include the International Joint Commission on the Great Lakes and those dealing with important river basins and other habitats, such as the Delaware River Basin. The Center for Biological Conservation was established in 1993 by the Massachusetts Audubon Society to address the problems of species extinction in New England. The formation and funding of such organizations, which have an obvious role to play in the NPBS, are to be encouraged.
Cooperative programs. Existing national and international networks and cooperative programs dealing with large components of the North American biota should be parts of the NPBS. Examples include the following: The Biodiversity Research Consortium—which brings together FWS, the Forest Service, USGS, The Nature Conservancy, and other groups—was organized by the EPA research laboratory in Portland, Oregon, to develop the use of research information for effective biodiversity management on a regional basis. Flora of North America draws together current knowledge of the relationships, characteristics, and distributions of North American plants through collaboration among taxonomic and floristic specialists in universities, museums, and government and private agencies; it makes this information available on paper and in database form to a broad array of
users. The Center for Plant Conservation, a consortium of botanical gardens, maintains an extensive database and acts directly to conserve threatened and endangered plants in the United States. Partners In Flight is described elsewhere in this report (see Box 4.1). The Freshwater Imperative is an effort to promote interdisciplinary and institutional cooperation to address issues and needs related to our understanding of fresh-water systems in the context of environmental change; it is represented by a coalition of scientists from government, academe, and the private sector. CARICOMP (the Caribbean Coastal Marine Productivity Program) is an international cooperative network of 20 marine laboratories in and near the Caribbean basin dedicated to monitoring the status of coral reefs and associated environments throughout the region.
Native American groups. Native American lands in the United States contain over 20 million acres of habitats, some with unique geological, archeological, and biological resources. Many Native Americans are highly knowledgeable about these resources and continue to depend on them for survival. The lands, including those held in trust under DOI, harbor endangered species, old-growth forests, rare communities, and unique ecosystems that receive various degrees of management or protection. Data on those resources will be an important part of the information to be gathered by the Partnership, and the participation of Native American groups is therefore necessary.
Puerto Rico and U.S. territories and possessions. Important biological resources exist in Puerto Rico, trust territories, and other lands and waters under U.S. jurisdiction. Those resources—under a mix of federal and local jurisdiction—should be accorded a high priority in the NPBS.
Private landholders and user groups. Private landholders have a great role to play in the full development of the NPBS; collectively, they own most of the land of the United States (Figure 1.1). Ideally, they should contribute to and derive much benefit from the NPBS in relation to the sustainable use of their
lands. Many large industrial landholders already collect relevant information. The associations representing the private sector—focused on such groups as land-developers, home-builders, and the forestry, mining, farming, and grazing industries—should find that the information available as a result of the operation of the NPBS will add greater certainty to planning for resource development and land use. A chief role for them in the Partnership will be to help to coordinate the relevant activities of their members.
Individual scientists. Much of the critical research and detailed knowledge necessary for the success of the NPBS has traditionally been performed, generated, or held by individual researchers. Those researchers might be professionals or informed amateurs; their participation is vital to the success of the NPBS. They will need to be fully engaged in the process, regardless of their institutional affiliation. Their involvement should be sought, in part, through the wide array of scientific professional societies—such as the Botanical Society of America, the Ecological Society of America, the Society for Conservation Biology, the Wildlife Society, and the American Fisheries Society—and organized volunteer groups, such as the various Audubon Societies and the Izaak Walton League.
Foreign biological entities. Specialists best able to deal with particular groups of organisms in the United States often reside in foreign countries, and their assistance in pursuing the goals of the NPBS should be sought vigorously. No country can house the best or only specialists on all groups of organisms. In addition, special cooperation of the biological surveys of Canada and Mexico and the specialists resident there and in other areas next to United States holdings—such as Russia for the Arctic Sea Region, other Caribbean basin and Central American nations for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and the nations of the South Pacific for the U.S. possessions and trust territories there—are of special importance. National and state or provincial agencies,
universities, and nongovernment organizations in all those and other countries can contribute to the goals of the NPBS.
MAJOR ISSUES TO BE ADDRESSED BY THE NATIONAL PARTNERSHIP FOR BIOLOGICAL SURVEY
Major policy issues that can be addressed with the formation of the National Partnership are reviewed on the following pages of this chapter. Dealing with each of them effectively requires better, more consistent, and more readily available scientific information about the organisms and ecological systems that occur within our national boundaries.
Preserving the Nation's Biota
The United States is committed to attempting to preserve its biological heritage. The national policy, as embodied in the Endangered Species Act, is to prevent species from becoming extinct. The FWS implements the Endangered Species Act and manages a diverse national wildlife refuge system. The Forest Service is mandated to manage its lands to preserve viable populations of native species over major portions of their ranges, and NPS is charged with conserving the wildlife on its lands. NOAA has similar obligations for all marine species in national waters. All federal agencies are obliged by the National Environmental Policy Act to assess the impacts of their actions on the survival of the organisms that occur on their lands.
Fulfilling those commitments requires accurate and extensive information on the evolutionary relationships among species (Vane-Wright et al., 1991; Nixon and Wheeler, 1992), their
biology, and the status and trends of their distributions and abundance. But such information is often not readily available, and for many groups of organisms (e.g., fungi, mites, nematodes, and marine invertebrates), most species have not yet been described and named, even within the borders of the United States.
For many taxa, sampling methods are poorly developed. Life-history traits and ecological requirements of most species are poorly understood, even among the better-known groups. Our knowledge of microbial diversity is extremely limited. Although the determination of gene sequences has made assessment more feasible than in the past, the application of these methods remains in its infancy.
Because the biological information available is often sparse or of poor quality, threats to the viability of species are often not recognized until the situation is serious and options are limited and expensive. Therefore, many of the remedial actions undertaken are late, costly, and inadequate. The meagerness of information also makes it difficult to determine what land can be altered for economically beneficial purposes with the least threat to biological diversity.
Sustainable Use of Biological Resources
Biological resources—such as food, fiber, and medicines—will be renewable for present and future generations only if they are used within scientifically determined limits. Sustainable use depends on accurate knowledge of the identity, distribution, and life-history characteristics of the species being used and those with which they interact, as well as knowledge of the ecological processes on which their existence depends. It is also important to understand the biological impact of human activities, such as the expansion of metropolitan areas and the extraction of nonrenewable resources. With more complete information, optimum harvest levels and methods can be established on a sound scientif-
ic basis, as is done successfully with some sport species. Those necessary data are well established for few species; for most, they are virtually absent.
Maintenance of Essential Ecological Services
Natural environmental processes purify water, maintain air quality, regulate hydrological cycles and flooding, and buffer the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Those ecological services can be replaced by technology only in part and only at great economic and social costs. We need to understand these essential services and the exact ways in which they depend on the richness, diversity, and integrity of ecological systems, both natural and altered, and on the individual species that make them up. Such information will also greatly improve our ability to restore essential ecological services in degraded areas. Reliable indicators of functional well-being are not available for most ecological systems, so we typically cannot predict how or when ecological services will be jeopardized by either human activities or natural processes.
Reducing Undesirable Effects across Ecosystems
Human activities in one location can produce undesirable environmental effects elsewhere. For example, the use of fertilizers and pesticides on land can pollute wetlands, rivers, ponds, streams, and coastal marine environments downstream. That pollution can cause a decline in commercially, recreationally, and ecologically important species or in ecological services. Likewise, low-density metropolitan land use in the United States could contribute to the decrease in the numbers of neotropical migratory birds in their wintering habitat. Management and conservation of species and ecological services require greater understanding of
the extent and consequences of functional links among ecosystems.
Management of Land and Water Habitats and Resources
Knowledge of the distribution and abundance of organisms and of their ecological requirements and interactions is essential for scientific prediction of the consequences of different patterns of habitat loss or alteration caused by humans. However, such knowledge is commonly available for only a small fraction of the vertebrate and plant species of a region and for a much smaller fraction of species in other ecologically critical groups like fungi and many invertebrates. Moreover, in many natural and managed communities, ecological relationships among even common species are often insufficiently known. And there is little broad understanding of the collective and specific impact of humans on biological resources, whether that impact results from metropolitan growth, renewable-resource uses, nonrenewable-resources extraction, or other sources. If management decisions are based on detailed information for only a few highly visible species, then costly and irreversible mistakes that adversely affect the production of ecological goods and services are likely to occur.
Maintaining the Aesthetic Quality of Life
In a world populated only by people and selected species of plants and animals that survive in degraded or developed environments, not only would goods and services from our biological resources be reduced, but the aesthetic experiences now provided by them would be drastically impoverished. Contact with nature provides a valuable antidote to the intense pace of modern urban life and is eagerly sought by an increasing number of people. Preserving ample opportunities for a variety of high-quality
aesthetic experiences requires not only preserving species and habitats, but also determining how individual species and ecological diversity contribute to the quality of these experiences and how the impacts of people attempting to satisfy their aesthetic needs influences that quality.
Anticipating Climate Change
Although the rate and extent of future climate change cannot be predicted in detail, substantial change has occurred in past centuries and millenia, and future change, whether or not it is triggered or exacerbated by human activities, would have enormous economic impact. Therefore, it is prudent to understand the biological implications of various levels of change. Ecological productivity and the locations and species composition of ecological communities are among the things likely to be affected. To anticipate the nature and intensity of ecological changes that might be induced by climate change, information is needed on how ranges of species shifted in response to past climate change, the extent to which the species compositions of communities changed, and which species became extinct during times of rapid climate alteration.
Information is also needed on the effects of increased atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases on productivity, plant competition, and vulnerability of plants to pests and pathogens. Much is known about the responses of young plants to altered atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, but too few experiments have been performed in the field under different ecological conditions, and only relatively short-term information is available for a limited number of ecosystems.
Prospecting for Biological Resources
People depend heavily on other species for food, chemicals,
fiber, structural materials, and energy. Most medicines, including the 20 with the largest worldwide sales, either are obtained directly from organisms or are synthetic versions of molecules first discovered in nature. For most of the world's people, medicines are substances taken directly from nature.
Even so, enormous potential wealth might remain untapped. About 100 species of plants, of a total of about 250,000, provide virtually all the calories we consume, either directly or indirectly (Prescott-Allen and Prescott-Allen, 1990).
Our ability to splice genes from one organism into another has enormous, largely unrealized potential to increase the nation's pool of economically important taxa. Methods still need to be developed to identify organisms with the greatest economic potential as either sources or recipients of genetic material. The application of biotechnology to marine systems is also of great potential importance (Colwell, 1983). In general, ''biodiversity prospecting,'' which depends on an organized and readily retrievable body of information about organisms, is a rapidly developing field that will benefit greatly from the operations of the National Partnership (for a recent review, see Reid et al., 1993).
Restoring Degraded Environments
Many environments have been seriously degraded by human activities. Soils have been eroded and contaminated with toxic chemicals, species have been exterminated or seriously reduced in abundance, and exotic species have invaded and modified native ecosystems and reduced their ability to function in ways that continue to provide environmental services. Restoring degraded terrestrial environments to their former productivity will require accurate information on crucial factors, such as soil-forming processes, effective methods to decontaminate soils, and knowledge of which species can best establish themselves on degraded sites and alter them to favor the growth and productivity of other
species. In addition, improved methods are necessary for monitoring biological communities to assess the degree of pollution of particular areas. The degradation of coastal marine ecosystems is a widespread and growing problem, but our knowledge of requirements for restoring degraded marine systems is even poorer than for terrestrial ones.
DESIRED CHARACTERISTICS OF THE NATIONAL PARTNERSHIP FOR BIOLOGICAL SURVEY
The National Partnership could be effectively organized in many ways. Regardless of the structure, several general principles should guide the organization and management of all the work of the NPBS, and especially that of the National Biological Survey, if it is to play the leadership role recommended by this committee.
Ability to Conduct Credible Science
The work of participants in the National Partnership must be scientifically credible if its information is to be used widely and with assurance in decision-making and in developing a stronger information base for the management of biological resources. The National Partnership must be
Science-driven and guided by highly qualified scientists. Unless its programs are designed, executed, and evaluated by highly qualified scientists, the information generated by the NPBS will not be credible. Indeed, the hallmark of the Partnership must be the uniformly high quality of its science. Effective management of the nation's biological resources—including protection, use,
and restoration—depends on high-quality research and the judicious use of the best scientific information.
Although the quality of the science must be driven by the standards and criteria of the best research practices, the type and scope of research in the NPBS will be driven by a new partnership of scientists and users. This new model explicitly recognizes that the National Partnership will provide a framework for organizing high-priority research in an integrated fashion across traditional disciplines. Moreover, because the research will be used to enhance knowledge about the status and trends of biological resources for the purpose of managing them wisely, strong interaction is essential between the scientists who produce the information and those who use it.
Ability to Conduct and Stimulate Appropriate Research
The NPBS will conduct and stimulate basic scientific research on the patterns and processes of species diversity and on ecological systems. Such research has proved to be a powerful approach to discovering fundamental biological interrelationships. From such knowledge, predictions and generalizations can be made about the protection, restoration, and management of these ecological resources. The research program of the NPBS will focus both on understanding biological resources and on stimulating and coordinating research that holds special promise for yielding results that can serve important management interests. To meet this need for a comprehensive research base, the National Partnership should
Be broadly based scientifically. The scales on which information from NPBS will be applied will range from individual species to whole regions and from short-term to long-term. The data will need to address a broad range of issues, as described above. The range of information gathered and interpreted must
be equally broad. This Partnership will require expertise in evolutionary biology, population genetics, systematics, toxicology, ecology, and other biological disciplines, supplemented with skills in the physical and social sciences, statistical design and evaluation, and data management. However, the great strength of the NPBS is that these traditional disciplines will be brought together to focus on the nation's biological resources in synergistic and synthetic ways. For example, NPBS must have the expertise necessary to organize existing information and stimulate research regarding human settlement patterns as they relate to the status and trends of the nation's biological resources. These patterns include the growth of metropolitan areas (where over 75% of the population live), the use of renewable resources, and nonrenewable resource extraction.
Be broadly connected internationally. The National Partnership must have the expertise necessary to design and conduct research, interpret results and share them with decision-makers, and coordinate research both within the borders of the United States and, as appropriate, elsewhere in the world. The NPBS must be able to identify gaps in knowledge, expertise, and research approaches, and it must seek to rectify those deficiencies either directly or through the resources and mandates of other organizations. Because the geographic distribution of many species extends beyond our borders, strong links must be established with the biological surveys of Canada, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean basin. The scientific, management, and conservation expertise of other bordering nations, such as Russia (for the area surrounding the Arctic Ocean in particular) and the nations of the South Pacific, should also be involved. The many species of vertebrates (especially birds, fishes, and turtles) that regularly migrate beyond our borders likewise need to be considered throughout the areas where they range. To understand the historical origin, diversification, and relationships among our nation's species, comparative research must be done in the context of the worldwide groups to which they belong.
Set priorities adaptively. The need for information is great
and there are many potential users of it. NPBS must have a strategy for its development. That strategy must set priorities among science activities, and it must adapt to new information as it becomes available and to newly identified needs for information. Priorities for the NPBS must not be set discipline by discipline, but rather on the basis of a need to synthesize information required for protecting, restoring, and managing the nation's biological resources. Assessing the current status of knowledge, identifying the most serious deficiencies, and determining how best to gather information that will be of maximum use in guiding further activities should be a central goal of the National Partnership. Because of the many uncertainties and gaps in our current understanding, the work of the Partnership needs to be planned to reduce major uncertainties rapidly and to modify priorities and permit users to change management strategies easily in response to what is learned (Holling, 1978; Walters, 1986). Investment in such an adaptive approach should permit substantial savings in the long term by reducing the risk of costly management errors.
Organization for Program Continuity
Distinguishing important trends from normal variability in the dynamics of biological resources requires long-term, broadly based information. Therefore, the NPBS must have stability in the direction and financial support of its research programs and the expectation of long-term continuity. Data on the status and trends of the nation's biological resources become increasingly valuable as the length of the record increases. Interruptions in the development and maintenance of databases would seriously reduce their value for nearly every purpose to which they might be put.
Ability to Provide Useful Information
The success of the National Partnership will depend in part on
its ability to communicate useful information in a timely manner. Therefore, the information products of NPBS need to be user-friendly and adapted to a variety of users. The Partnership will gather and manage very large quantities of data. In raw form, those data will be difficult for many clients to use properly and effectively, because the data will require analysis and synthesis and because the form in which information is needed will probably be highly problem-specific. Users will need data that vary widely in geographic scope, temporal domain, habitat types, and taxonomic groups. They will use the information for many purposes, including detecting patterns and processes in ecological systems and individual species, detecting the status and trends of biological resources, assessing economic and biological effects of alternative land-use decisions, and making decisions about the protection, restoration, and management of resources. As a leader and catalyst for the National Partnership, the NBS especially will need to find various ways to make information available to many users and for many different uses.
BENEFITS OF THE NATIONAL PARTNERSHIP FOR BIOLOGICAL SURVEY
This brief overview has indicated how information about the nation's biological resources—to the extent that it is relatively complete, up to date, scientifically accurate, and readily available—can be used to benefit the nation. Information about the species that live within our boundaries and across our borders, their historical relationships, and their life histories will form an essential foundation for their effective management and the management of the ecological systems of which they are a part. Information on the structure and dynamics of the many ecological systems that provide important services is essential for our future prosperity. Information on the ways in which those services and material goods depend on individual species, biological diversity, the locations and sizes of particular ecological systems, and their
sensitivity to natural and human-caused changes will support land-management decisions and aid preparations for dealing with potential climate change.
We have concluded that the proposed National Partnership for Biological Survey can make major contributions to our ability to develop and use such information effectively. The benefits that will accrue from the formation of the National Partnership can be emphasized most effectively by discussing them in relation to five points, which in essence constitute a summary of the ways in which the Partnership will be able to address the important issues that have just been outlined. They include some of the most important ways in which the steps recommended here will lead to improvement in our ability to maintain and use sustainably the biological resources that occur within our borders.
An effective National Partnership for Biological Survey would
Provide a better and more efficient information base from which to make planning and operational decisions, thereby strengthening the quality of such decisions and improving the management of biological resources.
The NPBS will identify, develop, and coordinate biological information from many sources, making these sources readily available to decision-makers. The information will remain in many localities and under the custodianship of numerous individuals and organizations. However, under the auspices of the NPBS, it will be cataloged and made accessible in a consistent format. Moreover, as new information is acquired and made available, it will be identified as part of the information base.
Provide, for the first time, an organized framework for collaboration among federal, regional, state, and local organizations, both public and private, where much of the information resides and where many of the decisions are made about biological resources.
The National Partnership will be coordinated and supported at the federal level, with the National Biological Survey playing a key role, but it will include a comprehensive structure that involves public and private organizations at all jurisdictional levels. Thus, information will be exchanged in a network fashion among many entities, and each one can contribute to and use it. In essence, NPBS is a national effort that happens to be coordinated at the federal level.
Provide, for the first time, an organized structure with stated priorities for inventorying and monitoring national biological resources, for acquiring information on the status and trends of these resources, and for understanding the causes of changes in them.
The purpose of the National Partnership is to develop the scientific basis for effective management, use, and conservation of the nation's biological resources. Prerequisites for accomplishing that purpose are to understand the location, status, and trends of the resources; to comprehend their features better; and to assess how human activities and natural processes cause changes in them. In many cases, existing information can be identified and organized to serve these purposes—for example, by the efficient use of museum resources. In other instances, new information must be collected, analyzed, and made available. Not all necessary information can be collected immediately, and the NPBS will need to set comprehensive priorities for organizing existing information and for collecting new data.
Provide improved programmatic efficiencies and economies of scale through better coordination than is now possible with public and private organizations.
Many public and private organizations collect, analyze, and use biological information for making decisions about the management, use, protection, and restoration of biological resources.
Because there is inefficient coordination among these programs, there is likely to be unnecessary duplication, as well as gaps in the necessary knowledge. In addition, much information gathered for individual programs, such as environmental impact statements, is filed and then effectively "lost" for all other purposes. The NPBS will provide a framework for developing a continuing assessment of the availability and quality of information and for efficiently collecting, analyzing, and distributing new and existing information.
Provide an extensive and common information base that will be used to anticipate and lessen potential conflicts about biological resources.
Many decisions about the management, use, and preservation of natural resources are made in response to court cases or to avoid incipient crises. Many of those decisions are expensive in both money and political cost. These problems can be reduced both in number and degree of confrontation with the kind of common, extensive, scientifically credible information base that the National Partnership will develop.
THE LIMITS TO THE NATIONAL PARTNERSHIP FOR BIOLOGICAL SURVEY
The National Partnership for Biological Survey will serve the nation well as it grapples with increasingly contentious and challenging issues in protecting, restoring, and managing its biological resources. Nonetheless, the very richness in biological resources that the Partnership seeks to describe and understand means that decisions will always be supported by incomplete information. Current information is spotty at best. But even with much more research and coordination, decisions will always be based on incomplete information because it is impossible to know
everything about any species or ecosystem. Moreover, values and economic interests other than scientific ones inevitably influence resource management decisions. Although the National Partnership would improve the scientific basis for decision-making, hard choices and conflicts will remain.
In the United States, much biological information is collected, analyzed, and interpreted locally and regionally, and the inclusion of this information will be an important strength of the Partnership. Most environmental decisions are made at state and local levels. Therefore, local, state, and regional nongovernment programs must constitute a vital part of the Partnership. This comprehensive structure of the NPBS will broaden and deepen the information base that supports decisions about biological resources. However, decisions at all levels will be made within the context of human value systems and political processes.
There is a risk that the label National Partnership For Biological Survey would simply be applied to existing science programs in the federal government and elsewhere. But the proposed NPBS has a very specific focus on knowing species diversity and the distribution of biological resources, understanding the patterns and processes that determine their locations and dynamics, measuring the status and trends of these resources, assessing economic and biological effects of alternative land-use decisions, and providing this information to users who must make decisions about the protection, restoration, and management of these resources.