Associate Scientist Center for Conservation and Sustainable Development
Where on earth do undiscovered species occur? Jiménez and Osazuwa-Peters are conservation biologists in MBG’s Center for Conservation and Sustainable Development. Many extant species are unknown to science. As a step towards predicting where they might be found, Jiménez and Osazuwa-Peters have been developing a model that predicts the probability of species remaining undiscovered within a geographic region. The model generates predictions based on estimates of regional sampling effort by collectors of herbarium specimens. They applied the model to plants of Nicaragua, a country with one of the best documented floras in the Neotropics, and found that many locally endemic, critically endangered species would be expected to remain undiscovered given past collecting efforts. These findings reveal the great depth of our ignorance about the geographic distribution of plants (sometimes referred to as the “Wallacean shortfall”), even for a tropical country with a relatively well-known flora. One or two students may be involved in in this project, and will work on further development of the model. Participating students will focus on examining the extent to which the model is robust to assumptions about the geographic distribution of species and the spatial distribution of sampling effort by collectors of natural history museum specimens. Students will use R statistical software (http://www.r-project.org/) to design and run computer simulation experiments, manipulate the resulting data and perform statistical analyses. Simulations will use data on the flora of Nicaragua from the Tropicos® database. No previous experience is needed, but if the student is not familiar with the R language or basic statistics, strong disposition to learn a computer language and statistics is required.