NSF’s Collections in support of Biological Research on hiatus: What does it mean???

Did you get word that NSF funding for collections is on hiatus? The minute I saw this, I worried. I know that hiatus does not mean an end, but it is the first step all too often. The  next thing I did was to wonder what exactly they fund. Sometimes this can be different from what one imagines. Going to the recent funding page of CSBR I found two kinds of collections, living ones and dead ones. The living ones on the top of the page include algae in Texas, cycads and palms in Miami, Chlamydomonas in Minnesota, lemurs in North Carolina, and Arabidopsis in Ohio. The historic collections on this first page include plant anatomy at Cornell, paleobotany at Kansas, reptiles and fishes at LSU, genomic resources at New Mexico, and birds at Berkeley.

Yes! This is exactly the sort of thing such a program should be funding. In this time of world wide loss of diversity, we need collections. So why a hiatus? Why a revisiting? What is the back story? That is never easy to find out, so I contacted Jim Olds, Assistant Director for Biological Sciences. This really means he is the head of biological sciences at NSF. Only the director of the whole thing, France Cordoba, gets the title of director. Jim is someone I have talked with before since I’m on the Biological Advisory Committee. He is not afraid of hard questions and is no apologist for the status quo, but he operates under a set of formidable constraints which he also talks about. He’s just the kind of  director I most like, open, clear, looking to make a difference.

Ann Nickerson holding a box of Dictyostelium samples she lyophilized in the 1960s!

Ann Nickerson holding a box of Dictyostelium samples she lyophilized in the 1960s!

So apparently lots of programs go on hiatus regularly for re-evaluation. I’m not sure which ones or why, but apparently this is a normal thing. It does not mean the field is ending, but don’t get too complacent. Do your civic duty and contact everyone you can think of about the importance to your work and to society for the collection nearest your heart and collections in general. I hope someone can write something on the best way to do this since I’m no expert.

And Jim also said to me that if there were a collection based project in urgent danger and funding were needed it might be possible to find funding at NSF even with the program in hiatus. So it is time for concern and worry but not despair. Figure out action plans to make your collections known as important. We all need to be civic scientists always, for nothing is permanent. Why NSF itself was only established in 1950.


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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