Researchers to investigate biodiversity in the Gobi vertebrate parasite project

Released on 12/11/2007, at 2:00 AM
Office of University Communications
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Lincoln, Neb., Dec. 11, 2007 -- , December 11th, 2007 —

Researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln are set to explore the hidden biodiversity of the isolated mountain range in the heart of Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park in southern Mongolia.

The project is funded by a $620,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. Scott L. Gardner, curator of the H.W. Manter Laboratory of Parasitology at the University of Nebraska State Museum, leads the Mongolian Vertebrate Parasite Project for UNL. A multinational collaborative effort will bring together experts from UNL, the National University of Mongolia, Hokkaido University in Japan, the University of New Mexico, Portland State University and the University of Kansas to study the biodiversity of small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and their parasites in Mongolia.

Researchers and students from these institutions will spend the next three years exploring the 10,800-square-mile park to better understand the diversity of species and their parasites that live in this area, and how they interact with each other and their environment.

By understanding which parasites these animals harbor, researchers will have a better idea of the habits and interactions of these animals, and identify emerging threats to wildlife or local people, Gardner said. For example, researchers will examine the wildlife population for the presence of parasites and viruses that can be agents of disease, including hantavirus and tapeworms.

Key goals of the project also include training the next generation of researchers and educating the public on the importance of understanding and appreciating biodiversity. Gardner said that one of the goals is to show the importance of "not only highly visible, cute and fuzzy animals, but the usually unnoticed or creepy animals as well."

Students from the National University of Mongolia and other institutions will learn to conduct fieldwork, care for museum animal collections and learn techniques for identifying and examining the relationships of many different species. In addition, the research project will be featured as a part of the summer youth education program of the University of Nebraska State Museum.

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