Sequestration, Science, and Snapshot Serengeti

Even if you live outside the U.S., it’s been hard to miss the arrival of the dreaded sequester. However, the impact of sequestration on science research doesn’t get a lot of attention in the general din. The U.S. government funds almost all of the nation’s basic science research, which means science research that doesn’t have an immediate application like creating a new medicine or figuring out how to grow crops to withstand drought.

Much of ecology research is basic. In Snapshot Serengeti, we’re interested in learning how a large assemblage of animals coexist and use the landscape. The results will not have an immediate impact on how the Serengeti is managed, but we hope it will help inform conservation management decisions down the line.

Worth funding?

Most of the nation’s basic research – and much applied research – is being cut by approximately 8%. Now, science funding hasn’t been doing all that well over the past couple decades anyway. And now things are getting worse. Snapshot Serengeti and its parent organization, the Lion Research Center, are mainly funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), which announced recently that it will award 1,000 fewer grants this year than anticipated.

You may remember that in January, we were working hard on a grant proposal to keep our cameras rolling past the end of 2012. The way the process works is that each proposal gets evaluated on whether it is good, well-planned, and worthwhile science and either gets recommended for funding or rejected. To give you an idea, in our division of the NSF, 16% of proposals got recommended for funding last year.

But it doesn’t end there. Each year the NSF gets many more good, well-planned, and worthwhile proposals than it can fund. So it ranks them. And then it starts funding them, starting at the top and moving down the list, until it runs out of money. Of the recommended proposals, NSF expected to be able to fund just the top 22% of them this year.

And with sequestration, that pot of available money just got even smaller.

What that means for our proposal isn’t clear yet. If the sequester sticks, then we will be competing for a smaller pot of next year’s NSF money. And even if it doesn’t, we’ll be in tighter competition with all those really good proposals from this year that just missed out on getting funded. In either case, the sequester is bad news for Snapshot Serengeti.

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About Margaret Kosmala

I am an ecologist exploring the complex dynamics of plant and animal systems. I am especially interested in understanding how species communities change over time and how humans impact them.

6 responses to “Sequestration, Science, and Snapshot Serengeti”

  1. Barbara says :

    I think what you people are doing is wonderful and reaches beyond science. You are giving any person around the globe with computer access the ability to observe nature at its finest without compromising the integrity of the animal world. You are providing awareness of wild animal life that is in urgent need of protection. Can you not get funding from cultural organizations as well, or from philanthropists like Bill Gates? If you ever need to petition for support you have a worldwide pool of citizen scientists who would gladly back you up.

    • Margaret Kosmala says :

      We’re exploring other possible funding sources. Unfortunately it’s NSF that funds a lot of citizen science initiatives, too! We’ll keep you posted as we figure out what we plan to do.

  2. grosbeak says :

    How much funding are you folks asking for? There may be a fan of yours that may contribute.

    • Margaret Kosmala says :

      We’re in the process of discussing other funding possibilities in case our NSF proposal doesn’t go through. Thanks for you potential offer. We’ll keep you posted as we figure out what we plan to do next.

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