Monday, December 19, 2005

All Taxa Biodiversity Index

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AC-T: "The goal of the All-Taxa Biodiversity Inventory (ATBI) project is to catalog every life form in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP). It’s paying off. As of October, the eight-year undertaking has already found 3,572 species previously not known to inhabit the park and 565 species previously unknown to scientists.

“I think it just shows you how little we understand what’s in the Smokies, and it’s hard to manage it if we don’t understand what we have,” said George Ivey, director of the Waynesville office of Friends of the Smokies.

The flora and fauna inventory idea has caught on, and is spreading through the 388-unit national park system and to many state parks, including the 54-unit Tennessee park system that began its own inventory project last year. Wildlife management will be the immediate benefit, but other long-term benefits may arise as well.

A bacteria found in Yellowstone National Park was the basis for DNA fingerprinting, and a slime mold found by University of Georgia researchers could help in Alzheimer’s research.

“We won’t reap the benefit from the scientific knowledge for a few years,” says Smokies chief biologist Keith Langdon. “But the importance of management (is immediate). We are finding so many more things than we thought we had.”

And those “more things” aren’t always the things scientist are looking for, such as introduced foreign species and bugs and blights that are killing beech and hemlock trees, and threatening others.

“It is impressive what they can find and what they can alert us to,” Smokies Superintendent Dale Ditmanson said, crediting these studies with helping managers get a jump on the hemlock wooly adelgid invasion.

The National Park Service, aided with funds from Friends of the Smokies and the Great Smoky Mountains Association, has awarded a $4.5 million contract to build a Science Center at Twin Creeks, within GSMNP boundaries. The 14,600-square-foot building will house Discover Life in America, the nonprofit overseeing the ATBI, and the park’s natural history collection, a wet lab, a rearing room for invertebrates, an education room and offices for other park researchers.

The ATBI is a worthwhile effort, not only for finding out what lives in the most visited national park in the United States for improved management, but for the long-term benefits it may bring to mankind. We’re glad to see it continue and catch on across the country. Adding an important research facility to the Smokies and the region is a fringe benefit we can thank the lichen and lizards for."

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