June 28, 2001 Vol . 21, No. 5

Mooers focuses on biodiversity

By Carol Thorbes

Hired in January as an assistant professor of biology at Simon Fraser University, Arne Mooers (below) belongs to a new cadre of scientists. Their goal is to preserve the Earth's biodiversity.

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) is funding this group's effort to win a race against time.

Biodiversity experts estimate 90 per cent of the world's plant, animal and insect species have yet to be identified.

They're trying to accomplish this and establish evolutionary relationships between species before the end of this century.

That's when, according to many biologists, up to two-thirds of all species are expected to disappear as a result extinction caused by humans.

"We don't know the minimum number of species required to sustain human existence," says Mooers.

The biodiversity expert was formerly the acting chair of the department of birds and mammals at the University of Amsterdam's zoological museum.

"We need to understand which parts of the tree of life are critical to the survival of humans and ecosystems, and which are not. Ideally, of course, we want to preserve the whole tree."

Along with his graduate students, Mooers is trying to organize the tree of relationships among all 200 species of the primate and 3,200 species of the fruitfly.

Scientists say this information will help society understand the real operating costs associated with continued development.

An annual operating grant of $45,495 for four years from NSERC is funding Mooers research at SFU.

Together with several senior Canadian scientists, Mooers is lobbying the federal government to develop scientifically sound legislation that protects biodiversity.

Mooers is also excited about an event being organized by SFU biology graduates and the city of Burnaby to commemorate 2001 being international biodiversity observation year.

During a 24-hour period this summer, Mooers and a team of volunteers will collect data on the biodiversity of plants, animals and insects on Burnaby Mountain.

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