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Enhanced abilities to turn our field biology programs into something really amazing to advance conservation.

Anticipating PRBO's New Center

An Observer interview

Common Moorhen, a denizen of Shollenberger Marsh. Photo by Rich Stallcup
Many on PRBO's science staff look forward to occupying our new facility at Shollenberger Park in Petaluma. Here Bill Sydeman, PhD, Director of Marine Ecology studies, foresees positive change.--Editor

Observer: How do you think our new Center will benefit PRBO's work?

Bill Sydeman: PRBO has the chance to build a facility attractive to top-level scientists from a number of different disciplines. It will be modern and cutting edge, enabling us to move in the direction of becoming a multi-species, multi-discipline organization that understands the ecology of systems as much as we now understand the ecology of birds.

This is important to the PRBO mission, because the conservation applicability of our science is in its ecology. Understanding interactions among organisms, and relationships between organisms and their environment, is the basis for effective management to conserve biodiversity. Our move will give us new capacity to host visiting and cooperating researchers. PRBO's Marine Ecology program might include a zooplankton expert, Terrestrial Ecology an insect ecologist, or Welands Ecology a tidal marsh hydrographer. We've established ourselves as leaders in avian research and ecology, but we we can do much more to integrate our science with other disciplines.

Observer: Are there constraints now on what PRBO can achieve?

Bill: High-speed internet access has become an absolute must, and we do not have broadband connectivity in our present location. Just one example: we routinely download NASA satellite data on ocean temperature and chlorophyll to interpret our data on seabird distribution. At present, this kind of information transfer is highly problematic. Also, just having space for everyone in the Marine Ecology program to work in one location will greatly enhance communication among individuals, collaboration, and productivity.

Observer: What are some new avenues in your work that may open with this move?
Bill Sydeman near the location of PRBO's next headquarters. Photo © Jeff Kan Lee / Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

Bill: For the past year or more, PRBO's Marine program has been teetering on the edge of major enlargement, with opportunities to work throughout the northern Pacific Ocean and even in the Peruvian Current--and potentially double in size. The prospect for bringing in people with new ideas enables us to at least ponder whether we want to go in that direction over the next five to ten years. We're also excited about having a genuine wet lab--not just the PRBO kitchen!--to process seabird food samples as well as the plankton samples we're acquiring from our shipboard surveys. A better "tummy lab" will enhance our ability to do seabird diet studies. Our California Current work has made one thing very clear to me: if we want to understand the ecology of a system, we must know more about feeding relationships of organisms that live in it, be they birds or marine mammals.

Observer: What are your personal feelings about the move?

Bill: I'll miss this lovely facility on Bolinas Lagoon. Being out in the country is very attractive, but it's no longer realistic in terms of PRBO's professional side. We've become a top-level scientific organization, and this move represents an opportunity for PRBO to increase its professionalism.

We'll still be salt-of-the-earth biologists and wear Hawaiian shirts and love doing field work. But we'll have enhanced abilities to take our field biology programs and turn them into something really amazing to advance conservation. Already PRBO is pushing the envelope in this regard, but the new facility will greatly magnify our capabilities.