Global Change Ecology
Center for Conservation and Sustainable Development
• Climate change vulnerability of threatened plant species
• Species distribution models
• Global change, conservation, biogeography, and macroecology
“White-hat hacking” of biodiversity databases: What information is available online to plant poachers? Dr. Smith uses collections data and species distribution models to predict how climate change and human activities might affect threatened species. Many people are surprised to hear that poaching is not only a problem that affects wildlife but also plants. In fact, collection of endangered and rare plants from the wild for personal gardens or for the nursery trade is a common problem. As a result, the locations of populations of rare plants are often kept secret by conservation biologists working to aid the species. At the same time, online biodiversity databases serve data on millions of species, many of which are rare and threatened. Some of these databases do not obscure the locational data of sensitive species, and even those that do may mistakenly report the locations of otherwise protected species. Unfortunately this information could be used by poachers to target critical habitats for collection. In this project the REU student will work with Drs. Adam Smith and Camilo Sanín of the Garden’s Center for Conservation and Sustainable Development to “hack” online biodiversity databases and determine how many actually obscure the locational data of rare and threatened species. The REU student must be capable in the R programming language or otherwise interested in taking the R course for REU students offered by the Garden. The project will involve programming, database creation, analysis, and scientific writing and result in a publishable paper.