There is growing recognition that the diversity of life on Earth, including the variety of genes, species and ecosystems, is an irreplaceable natural heritage crucial to human well-being and sustainable development. The impacts of land-use change, resource exploitation, climate change, and biological invasions have increased extinction 100-1000 times the pre-historic rate and show no signs of slowing down. In fact, indicators such as the Living Planet Index suggest that global extinction rates will be 10 times greater by the middle of the century. The last fifteen years has seen the exponential emergence of biodiversity science. This field has three core foci: the discovery and inventory of biodiversity, and the study of the causes and consequences of biodiversity loss, and the socio-economics of biodiversity change. Unfortunately, biodiversity science has relatively little time to provide solutions to this environmental change; indeed, this is perhaps the greatest scientific challenge of the 21st century.
Biodiversity science has never been stronger in Québec. To develop the nascent network of biodiversity researchers in the province we have established the Québec Centre for Biodiversity Science (QCBS). The QCBS groups 100 researchers working at the forefront of the field both nationally and internationally, and represents a partnership between 8 academic institutions and 2 other organizations: Bishop’s University, Concordia University, McGill University, Université de Montréal, Université du Québec à Montréal, Université du Québec à Rimouski, Université Laval, Université de Sherbrooke, 1 public institution—the Montréal Botanical Gardens—and Agriculture and Agri-food Canada. The QCBS pools the available state-of-the-art infrastructure and field stations of these institutions and so facilitates access to all members (researchers and students alike). This integration of common pool resources will favor the multi-scale and multidisciplinary research required to generate biodiversity knowledge relevant to the region.
The QCBS has 3 major objectives:
1.To foster and promote a world-class research program at all levels (undergraduate, graduate, postdoctoral and faculty) in biodiversity science.
2.To facilitate scientific cooperation among a cross-disciplinary group of Québec researchers in biodiversity science, and to promote Québec research at the national and international levels.
3.To facilitate the development of biodiversity policy, and to contribute to the academic and public debate on biodiversity loss in Québec, Canada and internationally.
Since the Québec government mandated the Ministère de l’Environnement et de la Faune to implement the Convention on Biological Diversity and Québec’s Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, there has been a growing need for highly qualified personnel in the field of biodiversity. Over the last ten years there has been obvious growth in both the research and the private industry sectors of the environment. A recent survey by Statistics Canada (2004) noted the high proportion of environment employees in industry groups with environment establishments.
The QCBS will train highly qualified personnel with expertise in the field of biodiversity science. These individuals will be competitive for positions in a range of employment sectors in the environment, e.g., education, consultancy, genomics, resource and ecosystem services management.
The Québec Policy on Science and Innovation places great emphasis on training the next generation of scientists. The QCBS will play a lead role in training the first generation of biodiversity scientists and ecosystem managers over the coming decade.
The members of the QCBS currently train more than 500 graduate students. This is a significant capacity founded on an established training experience and competency. This training capacity will grow over the coming years as younger research members increase the student capacity of their own labs. Multiple approaches will be taken by the QCBS to foster training.
The QCBS has begun highly productive collaborations with two Québec government ministries (MDDEP and MRNF) as well as the consortium Ouranos. The aim is foster science and transfer of knowledge vital to the implementation of policy on climate change and biodiversity loss mitigation strategies. Examples include new research projects of biodiversity sampling, impacts on ecosystem services, and the creation of climate-proof networks of ecological habitat.