John Pickering -- 10-year goals -- January, 2015

Discover Life --

  • Mission -- to assemble and share knowledge in order to improve education, health, agriculture, economic development, and conservation throughout the world.
  • Overview -- In 1998 I founded Discover Life to help researchers, land managers, students, and others collect environmental data and ask questions in the historical and geographic context of natural experiments across multiple years and study sites. Discover Life now provides research protocols, identification guides, a global mapper, phenology graphs, and plots to understand species and their interactions. It integrates over 450 million species occurrence records and 1.7 million images with weather data. It serves 640,000 interactive species maps. Since 1998 its computers at the University of Georgia and University of New South Wales have served over 3 billion pages and images to 28 million IP addresses. In 2014, they averaged 50 million such hits to 637,000 IP addresses per month.
    • Goal -- to institutionalize Discover Life before my retirement. Discover Life's legal umbrella, the non-profit Polistes Foundation, and its International Center for Public Health and Environmental Research, a team of over 80 Ph.D.s, propose to add servers in Papua New Guinea and at North Carolina State University, University of California (Berkeley and Riverside), and University of Florida.


  • Overview -- My research focus is on long-term, large-scale studies of the impact of climate change, land use, pollution, and other environmental factors on species abundance, distribution, and life history parameters. My outreach teaches local communities to do science, empowers them to run study sites, and contribute data needed to solve environmental issues.
  • Mothing ( collects high-quality data on creatures attracted to lights. Since 2010 participants have uploaded 460,000 images from 20 study sites in the U.S. and Costa Rica, identified 250,000 images to species, and documented differences in the seasonal activity and abundance of 3,000 species. Discover Life's servers automatically update and present these data each night. For example, see for an interactive accumulation graph of over 1,100 species photographed nightly since 2010 at one of our sites in Clarke County, Georgia.
    • Goal: With the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, National Audubon Society, National Geographic's Great Nature Project, Cooperative Extension, and other potential partners, I plan to develop additional research protocols (e. g., frogs, birds, mammals, plants, pollinators, lichens) and implement them at community-run study sites across the U.S. and elsewhere around the world.
    • Publicity: The mothing project has been featured in Audubon Magazine, UGA Columns, the UGA Homepage, the Orion Society, and SciStarter Citizen Science.
  • Pollinator+ ( mobilizes museum data to examine how environmental changes affect insect life history parameters and pollination.
    • Goal: With 38 U.S. insect collections, Discover Life proposes to digitize 6 million specimens collected over the past century. Our target species are bees, moths, butterflies, flies, and beetles with different biologies selected to understand and predict the impact of environmental changes.
  • Long-term insect monitoring -- From 1992 to 2013 Don Windsor and I collected weekly Malaise trap samples in Panama to study how El Niño weather patterns and tropical seasonality affect the biodiversity and abundance of insects, particularly beetles and parasitic wasps.
    • Goal: I intend to spend the last decade of my career further sorting our samples and analyzing the 20+ year time-series that we collected.
  • Identification tools -- Discover Life has over 600 taxonomic checklists and identification guides online, covering nearly 1.3 million valid species names. These include the world bee checklist with 20,000 species, identification guides to 78 genera of U.S. bees, and a guide to the 12,000 moth species of the U.S. that is customized by state.
    • Goal -- build additional identification guides, focusing on moths, bees, other pollinators, pollen, host plants, insect pests, plant pathogens, parasites, beneficials, lichens, and birds.
Teaching and outreach
  • Web-based instruction -- We are developing Moth math (see as a web tool to help 5th grade through college students learn how to analyze and graph data collected by Mothing. In addition to biological data on insect distribution, abundance, phenology, and size, Moth math enables web users to download daily data on precipitation, temperature, barometric pressure, and the phase of the moon. Thus, they can determine how these environmental factors affect species abundance and activity.
    • Goal: With Peter Burn at Suffolk University, Jonathan Lochamy at Georgia Perimeter College, and other partners, I plan to develop and integrate web tools and lesson plans to enable teachers and their classes to generate and test hypotheses using the large quantity of original data that Mothing makes available on-line.
  • Formal classroom instruction -- Since fall 2013, I have co-taught two sections of a service learning course with Marianne Shockley (ENTO 3300S) each Fall and Spring semesters to approximately 60 students per semester.
    • Goal: Each semester into the foreseeable future, we intend to keep teaching this course. I plan to integrate it more with Discover Life's study site at Sandy Creek Nature Center and teach its students to help develop and test Moth math at local schools.
  • Outreach -- I plan to continue outreach to the scientific community and to citizen scientists. In 2014, I gave twenty-five invited presentations to colleagues and community groups throughout the nation.

Updated: 2015-02-03
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