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8 Taking Collaborative Action A sense of urgency informed the committeeâs deliberations, elevating the critical need to act on this reportâs recommendations now. Biological collections are vulnerable due to systemic underfunding and insufficient recognition of their importance to science, education, and society. This is at a time when the nationâs biological collections are poised to be harnessed to provide data uniquely capable of informing challenges brought about by rapid and unpredictable global change. Unpredictable and unprecedented global changes have a huge impact on economies, health, and food security worldwide. The lack of knowledge of the identity, distribution, and interactions of biodiversity on our planet preclude our ability to predict or mitigate the emergence of pathogens (Cook et al., 2020; UNEP Report, 2020) or understand the causes or consequences of the accelerated rate of species extinctions. However, collections are also vital for developing diagnostic kits, treatments, and vaccines. Pandemics and loss of biodiversity, however, are only a few of a growing number of threats to humanity due to changing environmental conditions that urgently will require more resilient and integrated initiatives to build and then leverage primary biodiversity infrastructure, such as the resources held in biological collections. Critical Junctures Indicate the Time to Act Is Now A broad consensus of scientists has urgently emphasized that anthropogenic impacts, such as habitat conversion, overexploitation of resources, pollution, and climate change, are catastrophically challenging marine, freshwater, and terrestrial life (Ceballos et al., 2018; IPCC, 2019, Ripple et al., 2019). A growing and diverse set of alarming environmental metrics (e.g., increases in ocean heat content, ocean acidity, sea level, land burned in temperate and tropical zones, extreme weather, and decreases in the extent of sea ice, ice sheets, and glacier thickness) reflect extreme and cascading environmental changes now disrupting economies, public health, and the habitability of our planet. Understanding how these ever-accelerating changes will impact humanity has become a critical challenge facing the global scientific enterprise. Biological collections stand alone in providing the temporal, spatial, and taxonomic sampling needed to document the effect of these changes on biodiversity in natural and managed ecosystems. Important clues to understanding, adapting to, and mitigating environmental changes reside in the living and natural history collections that are the focus of this report. Future efforts to manage and develop these biological collections need to be directed toward preserving existing resources for research and education. At the same time, new specimens must be added to fill in current knowledge gaps and new questions not even articulated. Designing rigorous programs that will allow us to understand, track, and mitigate impacts of changing global environmental conditions will require a renewed commitment to maintain and further develop the primary biodiversity infrastructure (i.e., specimens and informatics) held in biological collections. Future development of biological collections globally could more directly involve local communities and especially Indigenous populations, when possible (Colella et al., 2020; Cook et al., 2013), to promote engagement and reciprocity, including benefit-sharing, infrastructure, and capacity building. Natural history collections offer the ability to document and understand the rapidly changing biodiversity of our planet through timeâin the present through new collecting, over the past few hundred years through existing collections (both large and small), and in deep time through fossil collections. Living stocks collections are important in this time of rapid change as, in addition to understanding changing environments (Ellison et al., 2011), they potentially hold answers to fighting new or re- 150 Prepublication Copy
Taking Collaborative Action emerging diseases (e.g., Zika, Ebola, coronavirus disease 2019 [COVID-19]) and developing crops that are more robust in the face of rapidly changing environmental conditions. To cite two of many possible examples, seed bank collections will be essential for identifying genetic resilience in crops, now largely monocultures, under disrupted climate regimes, and culture collections will be critical to characterizing emerging microbial pathogens and responding to threats to agriculture. With sufficient support, biological collections can offer not only a starting point for tracking and documenting change but predictions for the future use of modeling and artificial intelligence. As we enter a period of intensified research into documenting the response of ecosystems to change (exemplified, for example, by the National Science Foundationâs [NSFâs] Navigating the New Arctic program 1), it will be more important than ever that biological collections continue to preserve specimens and share them and associated data on which scientific conclusions are based. Heightened awareness of the value that biological collections can add to virtually every facet of biology (and other scientific disciplines), and when coupled with sufficient resources to maintain and grow them, provides leverage to create the critical snapshot for this dynamic epoch. Collections provide the baseline infrastructure needed, not only for current and future research, but also to ensure environmental and societal resiliency. Beyond changing environmental conditions, biological collections can also make transformative impacts on urgent societal issues by facilitating new collaborative ties among diverse disciplines (ranging from engineering to arts and humanities), ultimately stimulating new perspectives and creating synergistic initiatives. Dramatic changes in academic culture over the past decade favor integrative approaches to address complex questions. As detailed in Chapter 2, living and natural history collections serve a diverse array of research communities, which if brought together, hold great potential for interdisciplinary, broad, and synergistic endeavor to answer challenging new questions (e.g., global change, human health, food security) that necessitate teams of investigators pooling knowledge and working collaboratively. In an era of growing interconnectedness, grand challenges of global importance, such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, 2 call for a structured mechanism to bring people together as does one of the NSF Big Ideas, âGrowing Convergence Research,â 3 which asks for a âdeep integration across disciplinesâ and continues stating that âas experts from different disciplines pursue common research challenges, their knowledge, theories, methods, data, research communities, and languages become increasingly intermingled or integrated.â To accomplish such integration, creative models for broad collaborations and networking among collections and institutions will be essential and need to be encouraged through funding cycles. For instance, to take advantage of the synergy of such collaborations will require a substantive realignment of federal financial resources, public infrastructure, and state and federal agency agendas through a better appreciation of how biological collections meet the mandates of federal public health and natural resource management agencies. Biological collections are poised to make major contributions to todayâs burgeoning information economy. In addition to integrating across previously siloed disciplines from engineering to chemistry to biology, collections hold nearly limitless data, with each unique genome waiting to be explored, increasing our understanding of how they code for novel responses to environmental change and evolutionary adaptation (see Chapter 2). As described in Chapter 5, thanks largely to recent collaborative digitization projects that have helped build inter-institutional ties and opened up unprecedented access to the vast treasury of information they contain, collection institutions can now capitalize on their unique platform (i.e., biodiversity sampling) to demonstrate how science can be integrated across disciplinary boundaries as collections continue to emerge as the central infrastructure for addressing a series of critical societal needs. More than ever, biological collections now have an energized community that is ready to step up to meet these grand societal challenges. 1 See https://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=505594. 2 See https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/envision2030.html. 3 See https://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/big_ideas/convergent.jsp. Prepublication Copy 151
Biological Collections: Ensuring Critical Research and Education for the 21st Century A Framework for Collaboration and Innovation Is Needed It is clear that the time to act is now. This report, along with many others, details challenges facing living and natural history collections and what is at stake if biological collections collapse and collecting ceases. This report also offers an issue-specific range of options regarding physical infrastructure, cyberinfrastructure, personnel, evaluation, financial sustainability, and connecting to national priorities and needs for research and education. To ensure the long-term sustainability of individual collections, thereby strengthening the national portfolio of research infrastructure within the next decade, collaborative solutions to these challenges need to be developed and implemented. Throughout the report, a number of the committeeâs recommendations, however, require a unified vision and strategyâthe biological collections community will need to embrace and implement collaborative action. E. O. Wilson (1998) made the intellectual case for this sort of thinking: âWe are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world will henceforth be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.â Several research communities have established central hubs, multi-tiered networks, associations, or synthesis centers, funded through NSF grants or other federal and state support, to explore innovative research and education opportunities through collaborative analysis and synthesis at facilities that provide computational and logistical support. The National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, 4 the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, 5 the National Phenology Network, 6 the Association of Science and Technology Centers, 7 or the John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis 8 are a few such examples. Such centers and networks are considered critical research and education infrastructure, enabling the synthesis of data that cut across disciplines and perspectives to address societal challenges (Baron et al, 2017; Rodrigo et al., 2013). The biological collection community could leverage the organizational structure of centers and networks as a model to establish an Action Center for Biological Collections, whose mission would focus on all biological collections and offer a collaborative platform to provide actionable and lasting solutions for the collection community at large. Although the biological collections community is motivated and active, many of the communityâs endeavors to communicate the role of collections and position them and their associated metadata as critical infrastructure for addressing societal problems are disconnected and uncoordinated. A collaborative action center would facilitate and connect all relevant and interested parties, including living and natural history collections leadership, curators, and managers, university administrators, public and private funders, and the scientific communities that use collections, among other entities whose perspectives and needs are important to the future vitality of biological collections. Currently, there are no shared mechanisms, meeting space, or virtual platforms that bring together all these relevant and interested parties. Because biological collections are used in many disciplines for a multitude of research endeavors, the diversity of applications, objectives, funding agencies, and institutions involved amplifies the challenge of coordinating efforts, but it also provides opportunities for synthesis of information from multiple sources. Silos within the biological collections community exist, particularly in terms of the discipline represented, information sharing, curatorial activities, and even funding opportunities, resulting in duplicated effort in some cases and, in other cases, parts of the collections community that have been seemingly left behind. Many current working groups and professional organizations 9 are engaged in 4 See https://www.nceas.ucsb.edu. 5 See https://www.sesync.org. 6 See https://www.usanpn.org/usa-national-phenology-network. 7 See https://www.astc.org. 8 See https://www.usgs.gov/centers/powell-ctr/science. 9 Such as the Federal Interagency Working Group on Scientific Collections, One World Collection, World Federation for Culture Collections, iDigBio, Natural Science Collections Alliance, Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections, Entomological Collections Network, and Society of Herbarium Curators among others. 152 Prepublication Copy
Taking Collaborative Action parallel discussions, but sometimes these also lead to disconnected efforts, despite the many shared needs across all types of biological collections. An Action Center for Biological Collections could help streamline those efforts by fostering partnerships and promoting complementary activities. Efforts to digitize the nationâs biological collections have become a driving force for unity. In addition, advancements in cyberinfrastructure have increased our ability and extent to participate virtually to research and education events. For example, the iPlant Collaborative (Goff et al., 2011) or EarthCube, 10 both funded by NSF, create a virtual platform for their communities that combines research innovation with computing resources. Integrating virtual participation into a biological collection action center could promote productive spaces for interdisciplinary interactions, as biological specimens and associated data are increasingly accessed and used in a diverse array of research initiatives. As described in Chapter 5, iDigBio and its Thematic Collections Networks, through funding from NSF, and to some extent Biological Resource Centers, have provided some mechanisms for connecting the biological collections community through virtual training sessions, webinars, and a variety of other activities. Shared databases (e.g., Arctos, Symbiota) provide yet another vehicle for virtual cross-institutional interactions. Research Coordination Networks funded by NSF (e.g., RCN award #1534564: A community of ex-situ microbial germplasm collections in 2015; Biodiversity Collections Network) also serve to bring the collections community together, but generally only for the duration of the award. The activities of these, and other, previously funded RCNs provide a strong framework for the establishment of an Action Center for Biological Collections. Several professional societies have made large strides toward bringing biological collections personnel together, developing working groups to target a wide variety of needs. For example, the International Society for Biological and Environmental Repositories has worked to establish best practices and guidelines for maintaining the quality of biological repositories around the world, the American Phytopathological Society has been active in promoting culture collection support, and the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections has worked toward organizing a broad sector of biological collections personnel, primarily focusing on biological collections managers. These efforts are all positive steps, but strategic coordination across collections of all types is needed to ensure that the potential societal benefits of this vast resource are met. A biological collections-focused action center could facilitate training and further build and nurture communities of practice for research, education, workforce training, evaluation, and business strategies, among other needs. While institutions that curate, maintain, and use biological collections may have differing missions and sizes, they all face a complex balancing act to adapt to the evolving needs of science, education, and society. The coordinated action of a unified biological collections community could be a powerful resource that provides guidance, training, and support across a range of issues covered in this report such as, but not limited to: â¢ creating a national collections registry â¢ engaging new user communities, including small collections â¢ developing an evaluation plan and synthesizing quantitative and qualitative metrics â¢ establishing a workforce pipeline for personnel â¢ future-proofing financial models â¢ sharing best practices and standards for quality control â¢ building a shared cyberinfrastructure Coordination and collaboration could bring biological collections of all sizes, all taxa, non-federal and federal, living stocks, and natural history together to establish shared leadership, vision, and strategic planning. Coordination and sharing of knowledge will be critical for the biological collections community to be able to meet current and future needs and address the dynamic challenges of society and rapid global change (e.g., Cook et al., 2020). Biological collections play an important role in this endeavor, and the 10 See https://www.earthcube.org. Prepublication Copy 153
Biological Collections: Ensuring Critical Research and Education for the 21st Century broad community has much to share and learn from one another. The nationâs biological collections will be much more effective at meeting future societal needs if the community works together under coordinated leadership, vision, and strategy. The biological collections community needs an inclusive, integrated platform to strengthen the position of biological collections as a unified scientific infrastructure for the nation over the next decade and beyond. A national collections-focused action center dedicated to the support and use of biological collections could fill this need. A National Decadal Survey for Biological Collections Once a physical and virtual synthesis space to facilitate coordination and collaboration is created, this action center could facilitate the development and implementation of a national vision for research, education, and service to the nation in general. Many scientific communities work together to set priority research topics and the building of infrastructure needed to accomplish those priorities. Examples include the decadal surveys carried out by the ocean sciences, astronomy, Earth sciences, planetary sciences, and materials sciences communities, which serve not only to unify the communities around a set of common goals but also to inform internal strategic planning of federal science funding agencies (NASEM, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019). A biological collections-focused decadal survey would establish a set of priorities that could only be accomplished with a concerted effort of the collective, rather than any one individual biological collection (e.g., an âEarthshotâ effort aimed at revealing the 3D morphology, associated genomes, and potential biotic interactions of all diversity on Earth). A decadal survey for the biological collections community will need to involve the natural history and living stocks collections communities. As evidenced by this report, both groups have particular needs and strengths that do not entirely overlap, so deeper coordination or understanding of the differences between the two in terms of strategy and planning will be mutually beneficial. The two communities often hold specimens derived from the same original gathering or isolation, and the digital linking of these separate parts will be greatly facilitated by a closer working relationship between the institutions holding material of common origin. The planning process would also need engagement across NSF directorates and programs to include a broader group of end-users and stakeholders for biological collections. As recommended in the previous chapters, the collections community needs to make stronger connections with computer science, engineering, educational researchers, social sciences, and other disciplines not traditionally associated with biological collections, but that are becoming increasingly engaged users of biological collections. Cross-directorate participation in a decadal survey would help to strengthen these connections. Such a visioning process would also benefit by reaching across federal agencies that support the biological collections infrastructure to develop plans for federal versus non-federal collections. Living stocks collections exemplify how complex the funding and end-user base of collections can be from NSF to the Department of Agriculture to the National Institutes of Health, and from traditional research conducted at universities to for-profit companies using living stocks collections to develop new medicines, vaccines, or crops. The artificial silos that inhibit collaborative action of funding agencies to support biological collections are not beneficial to science, research, or education moving forward in the United States. The most exciting and novel types of questions that can be answered using biological collections, the ones that potentially have the most benefit to society, can transcend disciplinary silos, funding agencies, and the nonprofit and for-profit world. Such partnerships can leverage resources and maximize progress and are expected to foster large, transdisciplinary programs that address complex, high-priority questions related to global change and public health. Such partnerships can maximize the value of both research and infrastructure investments and could help distribute the costs of biological collections infrastructure beyond the NSF Division of Biological Infrastructure. Through broad discussion with the growing set of users and stakeholders, a decadal plan for biological collections could be developed. Such a plan could guide the development and expansion of the nationâs biological collections, and become an important tool to share and leverage these resources. In addition, a potential eleventh âBig Idea,â understanding the sixth extinction (Ripple et al., 2017), will require robust national biological collections infrastructure as transdisciplinary collaborations focus on 154 Prepublication Copy
Taking Collaborative Action the breadth and implications of massive biodiversity loss. Working more broadly across the sciences and technology on such issues would help further integrate the biological collections community into research collaborations in more interesting and novel ways. RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE NEXT STEPS Recommendation 8-1: NSF, in collaboration with other institutions that provide funding and other types of support for biological collections, should help establish a permanent national Action Center for Biological Collections to coordinate action and knowledge, resources, and data-sharing among the nationâs biological collections as they strive to meet the complex and often unpredictable needs of science and society. Such an action center should include a physical space and cyberinfrastructure to develop and implement collaborative strategic efforts and further build and nurture communities of practice for research, education, workforce training, evaluation, and business model development, among other community-wide needs. Recommendation 8-2: NSF should lead efforts to develop a vision and strategy, such as a decadal survey, for targeted growth of the nationâs biological collections, their infrastructure, and their ability to serve a broader range of users and scientific and educational needs. The vision and strategy should take into consideration the diverse capabilities and needs of all types of collections and diverse array of end- users, and set long-range priorities that could only be accomplished with a concerted, collaborative effort of the nationâs biological collections. Recommendation 8-3: The NSF Directorate for Biological Sciences should expand its partnership capabilities more broadly across NSF, other federal agencies, international programs, and other sectors. Such partnerships can maximize investments in support of a national Action Center for Biological Collections, the development of a national vision and strategy, and help spread the cost of such major endeavors beyond the NSF Directorate for Biological Sciences. REFERENCES Baron, J. S., A. Specht, E. Garnier, P. Bishop, C. A. Campbell, F. W. Davis, B. Fady, D. Field, L. J. Gross, S. M. Guru, B. S. Halpern, S. E. Hampton, P. R. Leavitt, T. R. Meagher, J. Ometto, J. N. Parker, R. Price, C. H. Rawson, A. Rodrigo, L. A. Sheble, and M. Winter. 2017. Synthesis centers as critical research infrastructure. BioScience 67(8):750â759. Ceballos, G., P. R. Ehrlich, and R. Dirzo. 2017. Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114(30):E6089. Colella, J. P., S. L. Talbot, C. Brochmann, E. B. Taylor, E. P. Hoberg, and J. A. Cook. 2020. Conservation genomics in a changing arctic. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 35(2):149â162. Cook, J. A., C. Brochmann, S. L. Talbot, V. Fedorov, E. B. Taylor, R. VÃ¤inÃ¶lÃ¤, E. P. Hoberg, M. Kholodova, and K. P. Magnusson. 2013. Genetic Perspectives on Arctic Biodiversity. Pp. 459â 483 in Arctic Biodiversity Assessment. Edited by H. Meltofte. Conservation of Arctic Fauna and Flora Committee, Akureyri. Cook, J. A., S. Arai, B. ArmiÃ©n, J. Bates, C. A. C. Bonilla, M. B. d. S. Cortez, J. L. Dunnum, A. W. Ferguson, K. M. Johnson, F. A. A. Khan, D. L. Paul, D. M. Reeder, M. A. Revelez, N. B. Simmons, B. M. Thiers, C. W. Thompson, N. S. Upham, M. P. M. Vanhove, P. W. Webala, M. Weksler, R. Yanagihara, and P. S. Soltis. 2020. Integrating biodiversity infrastructure into pathogen discovery and mitigation of emerging infectious diseases. BioScience 70(6):531â534. Ellison, C. E., C. Hall, D. Kowbel, J. Welch, R. B. Brem, N. L. Glass, and J. W. Taylor. 2011. Population genomics and local adaptation in wild isolates of a model microbial eukaryote. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108(7):2831â2836. Prepublication Copy 155
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