The NC Biodiversity Project (NCBP) is a private, nonprofit, unincorporated association whose mission is to promote public interest in the state’s rich diversity of native species and ecosystems and to support biodiversity conservation (see our Articles of Association). The authors of this project are composed of professional biologists, science educators, conservationists, nature photographers, and amateur naturalists, all of whom have had a long history of studying particular groups of species. We all place high value on the natural world and are committed to its protection. We believe that we are truly in the midst of a sixth great extinction event, one that is entirely the result of the human dominance and unlimited exploitation of the planet. We believe this mega-extinction can only be slowed if humans are first aware that it is happening; second, care enough both about the living planet as well as their own existence within it to spare at least a viable portion from our total exploitation; and third, have sufficient understanding of how the natural world works to become effective environmental stewards, acting for the benefit of the entire planet, ourselves included.
Our efforts focus on the creation of a series of websites that provide widely and easily accessible information on the full range of species in our state. We aim to go beyond the identification aids provided by field guides and focus more on the details of the distribution, life histories, and conservation status of species, particularly as they exist here in North Carolina. We include species that are already popular with the general public, such as butterflies and mammals, but we also give special emphasis to groups, such as moths, dragonflies, and grasshoppers that are less well understood or appreciated but that nonetheless play critical roles in our native ecosystems. Similarly, we give attention both to the common species that the public is most likely to encounter but also rarely seen species, especially those that are declining and of significant conservation concern. While we give the greatest attention to our native species, we also gather information on the exotic, invasive species that are sweeping across our state and whose impacts on native species and ecosystems is a high priority to assess and, ideally, to counteract.
The success of our project is completely dependent on the partnerships we form. This project, in fact, began as a public/private collaboration between the website authors and the NC Division of Parks and Recreation (see History of the NCBP). As formalized in 2016 (see MOA Between the NCBP, NCDPR, and NCDNCR), NC DPR provides the server and the expertise needed to create and maintain the websites. The NCBP, in turn, provides the content, vets all new information, and otherwise ensures the accuracy and scientific validity of the information presented on the websites. In 2017, we also formed an MOA with the Southern Conservation Partners (see MOA Between NCBP and SCP). This arrangement allows the NCBP to remain a project run primarily by the voluntary efforts of its authors but allows us to seek grants under SCP’s 501(c)(3) cover to fund activities and projects – such as this NCBP website – that we would otherwise have to pay for out of our own pockets. Other partnerships, such as the collaboration of several of our individual websites with the NCSU Insect Museum, are less formal but also important to our mission to compile as much detailed information on the state’s species as possible. In this regard, we acknowledge a strong debt to all of the museums, other institutions, and individuals that have been conducting biological surveys in North Carolina for well over a century now!
Our existing partnerships are critical to our mission and our aim is to expand them to involve the wider scientific, educational, and conservation communities, as well as the general public in particular, in both contributing as well as making use of the information we compile in our websites.
- For the scientific community, we combine survey data that we ourselves collect with records we vet that are submitted by the public and other sources, creating as comprehensive a documentation as we can of the taxonomy, distribution, phenology, and ecology of the state’s species. Obtaining information from a wider (and less grant dependent) range of observers is particularly important in an age when governmental and institutional sponsorship of biological surveys is undergoing a sharp decline, just when sound, detailed data are more critical for environmental decision-making than ever before.
- For the conservation community, we synthesize these data to assess the risk of extirpation of individual species and recommend conservation actions to reduce these risks. One of the most important of our goals is to increase the range of species used in assessing conservation priorities, both at the level of individual species and of entire ecosystems. It seems to us just common sense that conservation decisions should be driven by the needs of the most diverse groups of species, the ones that play the largest roles in ecosystem processes, the ones that are the most sensitive to changes in habitat and landscape integrity and, consequently, the ones in greatest danger of extinction or extirpation. It makes less sense to us that just a small handful of “charismatic” species – particularly vertebrates and perennial vascular plants – should be considered surrogates or “umbrellas” for the vast majority of organisms that have very different life-histories and adaptational strategies. The usual justification for the use of surrogates – that there is simply too little information on these lesser-known groups for their use in conservation decisions – is one that we particularly hope to dispel. The fact that their inclusion may greatly complicate the process of conservation decision making is to us simply in keeping with the goal of trying to preserve a very complicated, highly diverse natural world.
- For biology teachers and environmental educators, the websites offer information on the huge number of incredible species and their fantastic life histories and intricate webs of adaptations – co-evolved over hundreds of millions of years – that can be observed right here in North Carolina. These make for fascinating stories in themselves, but also provide detailed and diverse examples concerning the effects of environmental change on ecological relationships and what we can do as both individuals and a society to stop or reverse these trends. We wish to strongly encourage the coming generations that their innate interest in the natural world is not irrelevant in a human-dominated and increasingly artificial world. There is indeed still value on knowing where we came from and how we still exist within a natural world greater than ourselves, a world that we still need for our own survival.
- For the general public, these websites provide a freely available source of information that interested citizens themselves have a stake in creating. We strongly believe that public involvement will promote greater awareness and appreciation for biodiversity, as well as a greater understanding of its state, all of which are critical for greater and more informed support for biodiversity conservation. Conversely, we do not think there is any chance our efforts can succeed without achieving a broad base of public support!