John Pickering -- 20-year goals -- October, 2014

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 2.9 billion pages and images to 27 million IP addresses. In September 2014, they served 57 million such hits to 716,000 IP addresses.
  • Goal -- to institutionalize Discover Life. 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 440,000 images from 20 study sites in the U.S. and Costa Rica, documenting differences in the seasonal activity and abundance of 3,000 species. 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.
  • Pollinator+ (discoverlife/adbc) 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 Nino 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 have 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 customizable by state.
  • Goal -- build guides to insect pests, plant pathogens, parasites, beneficials, and moths worldwide.
  • Goal -- develop Moth math as a web tool to help students learn how to analyze and graph data.

Updated: 2014-10-21
Discover Life | Polistes Foundation | John Pickering | Top