Global Biodiversity SHIELD

The Global Biodiversity SHIELD was spawned at a meeting at Harvard University in May, 2018. Its mission is to collect and analyze information to improve human and environmental health. It envisions using social media and modern technology to engage classroom students, the general public, and scientists in a network of at least a million study sites at which participants will collect and share data to understand and improve our general wellbeing.

The 11-13 May meeting, "Biodiversity, Ecology, and Conservation Thinking Session," was in Harvard's DeVore conference room in the Department of Anthropology. It was sponsored by the Polistes Foundation (aka and the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation. It was attended by 37 individuals from universities, natural history collections, and other organizations. This was the eleventh in a series of regional meetings over the past year to identify problems and seek solutions to urgent environmental concerns. We are planning additional meetings to develop SHIELD and gain widespread participation in it.

SHIELD will integrate science, health, informatics, education and local decision-making. Its science will focus on building a global network of study sites that will collect long-term data to enable us to learn from natural experiments across large geographic scales. Sites will use standard research protocols that will empower large numbers of citizen science participants to collect and analyze high-quality data through smart phone technology, social media, and crowdsourcing. In addition to collecting data on biodiversity, pollution, and other environmental variables, SHIELD's health component will integrate data on humans, analyzing our disease incidence and prevalence with other variables over space and time to better understand and improve our health. Regarding informatics, we envision a big data component in which we will integrate and analyze data from a gamut of sources, from satellites to commercial transactions, to gain a comprehensive understanding of how our collective and individual behaviors, environment, and health are linked. In education, our goal is to develop a modern classroom research curriculum that will engage students at county schools, colleges, and universities. Participating students will learn state-of-art methods in comprehensive summer classes that will include science, technology, english, art, and math. As students learn and develop their skills, they will follow protocols that provide the larger citizen science network of sites with a foundation of intensely studied parks and other protected areas. To help policy makers and aid in local decision-making, we plan to develop and provide a suite of on-line tools and share all SHIELD's data in real time with some exceptions, such as with information related to individual privacy and the location of rare and endangered species.

While still in the conceptualization and planning stage, SHIELD has identified three areas that it plans to start work immediately. These are

  1. Citizen science study sites -- In the next year Discover Life, iNaturalist, and others plan to develop the capacity for individuals rapidly to collect and share verifiable data of their sites' environmental health. At a minimum participants will be expected to submit both a sound recording and a photograph of insects attracted to lights, ideally around each new moon for years to come. The sound recordings will document insect, bird, frog, and other sounds. As contributors become more involved, we will provide the means for them to inventory specific species over time at their sites and submit samples to laboratories for detailed analysis. Our initial analysis will focus on analyzing across-site differences in insects with respect to pesticide use in the hope of better understanding the poorly documented windshield effect -- an apparent alarming large-scale loss of insects across parts of Europe and North America.
  2. School research curriculum -- Starting next year with the Yellowstone Ecological Research Center and others, we propose to develop and test a curriculum for high school students. Our concept is to provide the resources for teams of county teachers and a resource person to give students a comprehensive summer research experience as they collect intensive data at both a protected area and across their county. We will focus inventory work on plants, bees, moths, ants, aquatic insects, and another group of the teachers' choosing. We plan to give students a broad research experience by equipping classrooms with computers, cameras, sound recorders, microscopes, and machines for chemical analysis and genetic sequencing.
  3. Inventory checklists of world's protected areas -- To support the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation's Half-Earth Project and others mapping the distribution of species, we propose to build species checklists to the approximately quarter of a million protected areas around the globe and their surrounding political regions. This work will include automated computer extraction of species names and locations from the literature, websites, and existing databases, such as the Global Biodiversity Information Facility. It will also involve crowdsourcing the task to individuals who can work locally to upload checklists and fill in missing species. Over the past two decades, Discover Life has developed tools and authoritative checklists of species names to speed this process. While our eventual goal is to include as many taxa as possible in site checklists, our initial focus will be to work on commonly studied groups so that we can compare communities across sites quickly, know which species are protected, and identify areas that are of top priority for future protection because they contain unprotected species.

For more information or to share your ideas, please contact John Pickering ( -- USA-706-254-7446).

Updated: 18 June, 2018
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