Hooked barbs
Hooked on international science? Photo: Frank V. via Flickr
Nov 2014

Meghan O’Connell, a young scientist, finds out how key players in DIVERSITAS initially got involved in the network and how it transformed their careers.

The right opportunity - it's what we are all looking for. For 23 years, DIVERSITAS provided that opportunity to great minds across disciplines by giving them a chance to apply their research and influence relevant policy.

For Anne Larigauderie (past Executive Director of DIVERSITAS; Executive Secretary, IPBES), taking leaf measurements and studying plant adaptations to climate change fulfilled her pursuit of scientific knowledge, but she wondered how her research contributed to the wellbeing of the universe. With a strong scientific background she wanted to contribute more to the decision making process and apply her research to influence policy. In Anne-Helene Prieur-Richard's (acting Executive Director of DIVERSITAS) case, she was fascinated by working in a multidisciplinary approach, and after having the opportunity to do so in a collaborative workplace, she never looked back. Harold Mooney (former Chair of the DIVERSITAS Scientific Committee, and one of the founding members of DIVERSITAS) went on sabbatical to South America and, after meeting a veterinarian in Chile who had similar research interests about mountain ecology, was intrigued by this synergetic approach with colleagues from around the world and got hooked on international science. He wanted an organization that was independent of the UN system to look at emerging problems. DIVERSITAS was founded in 1991 and provided the opportunity that these people, among many others, were looking for to engage in a multidisciplinary international approach that opened doors for scientists and researchers to apply their work on biodiversity issues in a new way.

After reflecting on how DIVERSITAS was instrumental in so many people's careers, I am excited by the idea that Future Earth will have the chance to widen their umbrella even more and provide opportunities for not only those who are already established members of the biodiversity community, but for young scientists and students who are interested in science-policy interfaces, for those with diverse cultural perspectives, and for traditional knowledge. DIVERSITAS was very successful at bringing together biologists, economists and policy makers, but looking ahead to the future I think we can take it even further. Instead of waiting for sociologists to become involved with biodiversity issues, ecologists can make the first move by going to sociologists and saying "This is what I know, how can we work together?" By working with indigenous and local communities across the globe, we can better value traditional knowledge about biodiversity.

My background is slightly different to that of my three 'Youth Reporter' colleagues who joined me at the DIVERSITAS celebration. Upon finishing my degrees in zoology and environmental management, I chose to pursue education as a career and currently teach environmental education in Vancouver, Canada. The celebration conference was an amazing learning experience for me to hear first-hand from leading scientists about the work that they have done and how their work is creating solutions to real world problems. This is the type of information that my students and young scientists are eager to hear. It's important for young people pursuing a career in science to hear about organizations like DIVERSITAS and Future Earth and about how to get involved in such networks. However, I'm not just talking about PhD students. Aside from opportunities for PhD students, how can masters and undergraduate students become engaged? How could high school students learning about the importance of biodiversity be introduced to the work that networks like DIVERSITAS are doing? Young people are thirsty for this knowledge and they want to be inspired.

DIVERSITAS is leaving behind a legacy of creating new opportunities to pursue the frontiers of science and knowledge between disciplines. As Future Earth takes the reins, let's build on DIVERSITAS' work to create a network comprised not only of experts in their chosen field, but also educators, students, and people with traditional and local knowledge. A network like this will surely provide the much needed opportunity that so many are seeking, and it turn these people will collectively help broaden the scope of the biodiversity community as we all work towards global sustainability.