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John Pickering, Discover Life

John Pickering
Odum School of Ecology, University of Georgia
538 Biological Sciences Building, Athens, GA 30602-2602
office phone:706-542-1115          cell phone:706-254-7446      
email: pick@discoverlife.org; skype: johnpick69
homepage: www.discoverlife.org/who/Pickering,_John.html

  • Harvard University, Biology, A.M. 1976; Ph.D. 1980
  • University of Illinois, Honors Biology, B.S. 1973 (high departmental & university honors)

Appointments and Professional Experience

  • University of Georgia, Athens -- Faculty member
    • Odum School/Institute of Ecology, 1994-present
    • Department of Entomology, 1984-95
    • Institute of Bioinformatics, member, 2006-present
  • University of California, Berkeley
    • Postgraduate Research Entomologist, Div. of Biological Control, 1982-84
    • Research Associate, Div. of Entomology & Parasitology, 1981-82
    • Miller Postdoctoral Fellow, Dept. of Entomological Sciences, 1979-81


  • Green Champion, Go Green Alliance, University of Georgia, 2010
       SMART initiative for outstanding efforts related to sustainability (www.discoverlife.org/smart)
  • Mellon Senior Research Fellowship, 1996-98
       Organization for Tropical Studies, Costa Rica
       Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama
  • Outstanding Upper Division Advisor Award, University of Georgia, 1996
  • Special Sandy Beaver Award for Teaching Excellence, University of Georgia, 1994
  • Outstanding Conference Paper Presentation, GRASS Users Conference, Berkeley, 1991
  • Postdoctoral Fellowship, Miller Institute for Basic Research in Science, 1979-81
  • Predoctoral Fellowship, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, 1976-77
  • Richmond Fellow, Harvard University, 1974-79
  • Bronze Tablet, University of Illinois, 1973


My goal is to understand changes in the diversity, abundance, distribution and dispersal of all living things across local to global scales. Clearly, I cannot accomplish this alone. Hence, the advent of Discover Life (www.discoverlife.org) -- a website with the technology to enable an army of scientists, students and volunteers to work together, study biodiversity and share information on a grand scale. For over a decade my almost single-minded passion has been to build this interactive encyclopedia. Currently it and its partner databases provide information on 1.2 million species. This website has had 1.29 billion hits. In June, 2012, it served 40 million pages and images to 352,000 IP addresses. Its online tools include a global mapper (www.discoverlife.org/map) that enables users to compare the distribution of 450,000 species across geographic scales.

I am broadly trained as a biologist. I specialize in the natural history of the Hymenoptera (ants, bees, wasps, and sawflies), the epidemiology and virulence of infections, and sex ratio theory. In addition to natural history research, I have worked in public health and agriculture. My field methods include comparative inventories across tropical and temperate sites and long-term monitoring of populations and communities in response to environmental and experimental changes. My current focus is "Mothing" (see http://www.discoverlife.org/moth). We photograph moths at lights before dawn every night to document how communities change seasonally and across years in response to changes in temperature, air quality and other variables.

Besides field and microscope work, my laboratory builds interactive guides to identify species, integrates databases so that web users can easily map and share information, and pioneers barcode technology to track museum specimens. I started programming computers in 1972 and have considerable experience in designing, building and running systems. My forte is using unix, perl scripts and natural language processing to automate the integration of databases from disparate sources and to serve them in composite pages on the web.

In 1991, my collaborators, students and I started the Insect Diversity Project to quantify how climate, biogeography, habitat type, disturbance, land-use and landscape fragmentation affect species abundance, diversity and trophic interactions within ecosystems. We have collected over 300 trap-years of insect samples from 12 tropical and 8 temperate sites in the New World. Don Windsor and I have an on-going monitoring project that has collected weekly Malaise trap samples from Barro Colorado Island, Panama, since June, 1992. In total my lab has mounted and labelled over 300,000 individual insects and is currently using digital photography to document more. By modelling data across sites, we hope to answer how seasonality, El Niño cycles and other large-scale factors affect community structure and diversity in time and space.

In 1997, I co-founded the Great Smoky Mountains National Park's All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory -- a comprehesive study of species in the park. In 1998, I began Discover Life to support biodiversity studies and serve as a general portal to natural history information. In 2002, I co-founded the Polistes Foundation (www.discoverlife.org/polistes), the mission of which is to assemble and share knowledge about nature in order to improve education, health, agriculture, economic development, and conservation throughout the world. This non-profit foundation is the legal umbrella of Discover Life. In 2007, I co-founded the International Center for Public Health and Environmental Research (PHER, www.discoverlife.org/research) to help advance our research and educational goals. PHER is centered at the University of Georgia and has an international team of over 75 associated scientists employed at other institutions. In 2009, I co-founded the Proceedings of Life. This publication will be online, interactive, peer reviewed and free to all users. It will provide authors with a means to get academic credit and a permanent scientific citation for building and maintaining high-quality databases on the web. In 2011, I co-founded the Georgia Natural History Survey (see http://www.discoverlife.org/gnhs).