Max Planck-Yale Center for Biodiversity Movement and Global Change launched

Martin Wikelski, Martin Stratmann, Yale President Peter Salovey, Walter Jetz, and Peter Schiffer.
The launch of the Max Planck-Yale Center for Biodiversity Movement and Global Change included remarks from, left to right, Martin Wikelski, Martin Stratmann, Yale President Peter Salovey, Walter Jetz, and Peter Schiffer. (Photo credit: Kendall Teare)

In a world of changing climate and shifting habitat, species of all sorts are on the move — and so is Yale’s biodiversity research.

On May 2, Yale launched the Max Planck–Yale Center for Biodiversity Movement and Global Change with a daylong symposium. The center, a partnership with the Max Planck Society, will channel new resources, technology, and expertise into advancing scientific knowledge of species movement through time.

The establishment of this center emphasizes the importance of international collaborations in understanding and solving challenges we all share,” said Yale President Peter Salovey. “In today’s increasingly complex and interconnected landscape, investigators across disciplines and around the world must work together to produce research and technological innovations.”

Martin Stratmann, president of the Max Planck Society, lauded the innovative nature of the center, which will incorporate the latest in GPS and tracking technology, as well as data science techniques, to conduct research.

This opens up totally new horizons,” Stratmann said, noting that the next revolution in science will focus on “our own planet — and the protagonists are sitting right here in this room.”

The co-directors of the center are Walter Jetz, faculty in Yale’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; and Martin Wikelski, director of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology.

Yale’s Walter Jetz presenting at the Max Planck-Yale Center launch event.
Yale’s Walter Jetz, co-director of the Max Planck-Yale Center for Biodiversity Movement and Global Change, gave a presentation at the launch event. (Photo credit: Kendall Teare)

Jetz said the new center had its beginnings at the Yale Center for Biodiversity and Global Change, and noted that GPS tracking technology and other advances have transformed the way scientists study biodiversity. Everything from NASA satellite data on cloud cover and surface temperature, to high-tech tagging devices on individual animals, provides an unprecedented view of species movement, he noted.

It allows us, as scientists, to characterize species and populations down to the individual level, and how individual animals use their environment over large scales,” Jetz said.

The value of such information covers a wide territory, as well, according to Wikelski. A global dataset of animal movement can help in natural disaster forecasting, in predicting disease transmission, and in understanding changes in climate and weather, he said. It also can be used to aid in public awareness and in curbing poaching and crime in forests and protected areas.

All of these animals are environmental buoys for us,” Wikelski said. “And we’re just at the beginning of it.”

Wikelski and Jetz mentioned several ongoing programs that relate to biodiversity and movement: the Yale-based Map Of Life effort and Max Planck’s MoveBank. Jetz also brought up a new idea to tag 100,000 animals and create a global network of biodiversity “sentinels.”

The symposium included presentations from National Geographic Society chief scientist Jonathan Baillie, Meg Crofoot of the University of California-Davis, Map of Life project manager Michelle Duong, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology researcher Andrea Flack, and MPYC research scholar Diego Ellis Soto.

Martin Stratmann, president of the Max Planck Society, and Yale President Peter Salovey.
Martin Stratmann, president of the Max Planck Society, and Yale President Peter Salovey spoke at the opening symposium. (Photo credit: Kendall Teare)

Other speakers and presenters included Oswald Schmitz, the Oastler Professor of Population and Community Ecology and director of the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies; Michael Donoghue, Sterling Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and curator of botany at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History; Movebank data curator Sarah Davidson; Kamran Safi and David Schimel of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology; Yale graduate student Ben Carlson; Frank La Sorte of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Beth Gardner of the University of Washington; and Elise Zipkin of Michigan State University.

Peter Schiffer, Yale’s vice provost for research, said the new partnership with Max Planck is the latest step in Yale’s long history of scientific innovation, from the work of 19th-century mathematical physicist Josiah Willard Gibbs to that of computer scientist Grace Hopper. In addition, Schiffer said, the new center is an “exciting” part of a wider effort at Yale to invest in cutting-edge science — an effort that includes the ongoing construction of the Yale Science Building.

This center ties together much of what’s important in science today, all in the service of understanding how the world is changing,” Schiffer said.

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