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NMNH Research Programs

Arctic Studies Center: Millennium of Change

The program investigates the effects of environmental change on several circumpolar regions, including Alaska and Labrador. Research foci include: the impacts of climate change, the extension of the Labrador current and its influence on Inuit culture distribution and research on the responses of modern indigenous groups to the changing Arctic environment. Contact: William Fitzhugh

Biodiversity of the Guiana Shield
The Guiana Shield (the Shield) is a distinct geologic region that is biologically extremely rich but remains poorly known. Because it is an ancient, fairly isolated geological area, the Shield has high endemism and many undescribed taxa. Approximately 60-70% of the natural habitat of the Shield remains pristine but these natural areas are now seriously threatened. An understanding of the Shield biota must be gained in order to inform conservation decisions and to address current issues such as climate change. BDG is based in the Department of Botany but is an interdepartmental and inter-unit (across the Smithsonian) program with worldwide collaborators. Contact: Vicki Funk

Deep Reef Observation Project

Shallow coral reefs are in peril worldwide. Comparatively little is known about tropical deep reefs (50 to >300 m), including the diversity of life they harbor, the evolutionary origins and geographic distributions of their inhabitants, and how they are changing over time. DROP aims to help fill these gaps in our knowledge. Using a manned submersible based in the southern Caribbean and capable of descending to 300 m, DROP investigators are conducting exploratory biodiversity surveys and deploying and retrieving monitoring gear on a shallow-to-deep reef slope. Genomic methods are being employed to investigate evolutionary relationships and assess biological differences over depth and time. To date, more than 30 new species of fishes and invertebrates have been discovered, and baseline biological and environmental data that will enable detection of changes in the future have been acquired. DROP features interdepartmental, inter-unit (across the Smithsonian), and international collaboration.  Contact: Carole Baldwin

Evolution of Terrestrial Ecosystems
Understanding the structure, function and dynamics of ecological communities is a central goal of ecology. Paleobiologists are engaged in parallel efforts to reconstruct paleocommunities using associations of fossil plants and animals. ETE is building on over 20 years of observation, documentation, and interpretation of ecological patterns in the terrestrial fossil record, especially those relating to major periods of global change, to develop a common “currency” between recent and deep time community ecology. Contact: Anna K. Behrensmeyer

Frontiers in Phylogenetics
The long term goal of this program is to create a world-leading center for research and training in all aspects of phylogeny reconstruction and its applications in biology, medicine and agriculture. Frontiers is partnering with informatics experts at University of Maryland, George Washington University, and in several Smithsonian units to provide NMNH phylogeneticists with the advanced informatics infrastructure needed for next-generation phylogenetics, including hardware and software support for managing terabyte-scale data sets, and grid-based supercomputing power for analyses. Contacts: Michael Braun and Sean Brady

Global Arms Program

Text.  Contact: Christopher Meyer and Nancy Knowlton

Global Volcanism Program
The mission of Global Volcanism Program (GVP) is to document, understand, and disseminate information about global volcanic activity. We do this through four core functions: reporting, archiving, research, and outreach. The data systems that lie at our core have been in development since 1968 when GVP began documenting the eruptive histories of volcanoes. Now, in partnership with organizations around the world, GVP is building new geoinformatics tools that will directly facilitate research efforts. GVP scientists want to understand (1) What do volcanoes reveal about Earth’s mantle? (2) How can volcanic hazards be quantified, modeled, and predicted? and (3) Can we recognize new patterns in global volcanism by integrating physical eruptive data with the chemistry of erupted products? Contact: Elizabeth Cottrell

Program in Human Ecology and Archaeobiology
The Program in Human Ecology and Archaeobiology (PHEA) is an integrated research, collections, and education program focused on understanding ancient and more recent human-environmental interactions around the world. Research on the ecological and behavioral context of plant and animal domestication and the origins of agriculture is a central focus of PHEA, as is documenting how past human societies have adapted to and shaped a range of different ecosystems world-wide. Contact: Torben Rick