University of California, Davis, scientists who manage campus biological collections have received a five-year, $4 million grant to study fungi, bacteria, plants, insects and vertebrates on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, a southeast Asian island threatened by the loss of biodiversity in its tropical forests.

An international team of collaborators will conduct biodiversity field surveys, screen microbes and plants for applications to human health and energy needs, recommend strategies to conserve endangered species and develop and encourage local conservation efforts, said principal investigator Professor Daniel Potter of the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences.

The grant is funded by the International Cooperative Biodiversity Group Program, a multi-agency program led by the National Institutes of Health with contributions from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.

"The alarming rate at which biodiversity is being lost in many tropical regions has resulted in an urgent need for such efforts," said Potter, director of the UC Davis Center for Plant Diversity.

Biodiversity refers to all living things in a region and to their interactions with each other and their surroundings.

The grant, Biodiversity Surveys in Indonesia and Discovery of Health and Energy Solutions, targets the tropical forests of southeastern Sulawesi, a poorly studied but heavily threatened area, Potter said.

"A study of this type requires collaborative research partnerships of unprecedented scope and complexity."

The results are expected to aid human health, energy needs and biodiversity conservation.

Co-investigators include UC Davis scientists from the Bohart Museum of Entomology, the Center for Plant Diversity, Museum of Wildlife and Fisheries Biology, the Department of Plant Pathology, and the Phaff Yeast Culture Collection in the Department of Food Science and Technology.

They will collaborate with researchers from UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco and three Indonesian institutions: the Indonesian Institute of Science, the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry, and the Bandung Institute of Technology.

The project is sorely needed, said entomologist Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and chair of the Department of Entomology. "For biologists, Sulawesi is the biological holy grail," she said. "It has a rich, extremely diverse and largely unknown insect fauna. This is a fantastic opportunity to work with our Indonesian colleagues taking a novel approach to examining the biodiversity of the island."

Potter described the research project as an extraordinary opportunity. "When the call for the International Cooperative Biodiversity Group grant proposals came out in the fall of 2007, several of us involved in management of the biological collections here at UC Davis thought this could be an extraordinary opportunity to initiate a project that would include study of organisms in the multiple taxonomic groups (fungi, bacteria, plants, insects, vertebrates) covered by our collections and to engage in international collaborative research with implications for human health, energy needs, and biodiversity conservation."

UC Davis is the lead institution from the United States, and the Indonesian Institute of Science is the lead agency from Indonesia.

Potter said the results of the project will make significant contributions to a broad range of issues, including:

– Development of knowledge about the patterns of biodiversity in southeast Asia;

– Identification and isolation of natural products with potential value for treating globally important diseases and addressing human energy needs;

– Development of effective biodiversity conservation strategies and proactive outreach and education programs to promote those strategies;

–Establishment of models for effective and equitable international collaborative partnerships, and ethical and sustainable international sharing of biogenetic resources.