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St. Louis institutions join for conservation

Posted September 10

— Three major St. Louis institutions are joining to improve their efforts to preserve plants and animals.

Washington University, The St. Louis Zoo and the Missouri Botanical Garden say the new Living Earth Collaborative could make St. Louis an international player in conservation efforts.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports the university has recruited a Harvard researcher, Jonathan Losos, to lead the cause.

The collaborative is driven by research that found one in five plant species is threatened with extinction while animal populations continue to decline.

The work is urgent, said Mark Wrighton, chancellor of Washington University, which is putting up about $6 million and labor for the collaboration. The Botanical Garden and the zoo also will contribute money or manpower but the specifics have not been defined. Part of the $6 million includes Losos' endowed professorship.

"People love animals and they love the experiences they have in the natural world with plants and animals," Wrighton said. "What we need to do on one hand is raise people's consciousness to the changes that are occurring, and bring together leaders to try to develop an approach to reducing the consequences of humankind on diminished biodiversity."

The institutions have worked together in the past but the collaborative formalizes the partnership.

"There is no collaborative like this anywhere in the world," said Jeffrey Bonner, chief executive officer for the St. Louis Zoo.

Bonner said far-reaching research might be more likely under the collaborative, with about 50 doctoral-level researchers from the Botanical Garden and experts at the university.

"I believe that we need to focus on interdisciplinary research," said Peter Wyse Jackson, president of the Missouri Botanical Garden. "It's all very well for each one of us to be conserving a little reptile or a lemur or a plant species, but often conservation is a complex mixture of species discovery, assessing their conservation and building the recovery of that species in an ecosystem."

Losos suggests focusing on a geographic area, such as Madagascar, where the garden and the zoo have worked extensively.

Losos also hopes to increase opportunities for undergraduates and graduate students and to possibly create a related postdoctoral program. He also envisions public lectures, workshops and other events.

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