One sunny Thursday afternoon last October, Lyman Connor climbed on his bicycle and pedaled from his Roanoke, Va., home for a ride along the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway. He didn’t make it back that day.
Riding down one of the parkway’s steep hills at nearly 40 mph, a car suddenly braked in front of Connor. “The last thing I remember was going over the handlebars,” he says. “When I woke up in an intensive care unit, I had tubes coming out my body to sustain my breathing.”
Connor suffered nine skull fractures in the fall and broke his hip, jaw, clavicle and a number of ribs, one of which punctured a lung. He also lost sight in one of his eyes and his sense of taste.
After spending a week convalescing in the hospital, the 54-year-old Connor decided to go home. He was still badly hurting and in a cast when he stepped into the hospital elevator. Inside was a boy whose eyes were red from crying. “I tried to make him smile, pointed to myself, and told him it couldn’t be so bad,” Connor says.
But the boy lifted his arm and showed Connor a stump where his hand should have been.
The world’s once hidden hotspots of biodiversity are coming into view thanks to some pioneering work that is bringing conservation into the age of Big Data.
Scientists in Australia and the U.S. have figured out a way to analyze the genetic sequences of species found in an area, and then compare those results to other places to understand both how rich in biodiversity and how unique the species in a place are, a characteristic called endemism. They can then see whether high-scoring locations are in need of protection.
“Our model lets you see where unique diversity is and how localized it is,” University of California, Berkeley biologist Brent Mishler tells Txchnologist. “Then we can look at this data on a map, see where protected areas are, and whether these areas of high and endangered diversity that we found aren’t yet covered.”
To do it, Mishler and his team turned the old idea behind locating biodiversity hotspots—by counting species in an area and taking into account how endangered they are—and turning it on its head. Instead, their model looks at the DNA sequences of different species in a place to measure the genetic variety there and compares it to other areas to assess how rare the community is.