UMass Boston

Research & Impact


The Department of Biology at UMass Boston is a broad, integrative department with faculty research across a wide spectrum of the life sciences. Faculty in the department compete for external funding, win major grants, publish in top scientific journals, and mentor Ph.D., Masters, and undergraduate students. Their research spans many biological and biomedical sciences disciplines, including (but not limited to): molecular, cellular and developmental biology; neurobiology; evolutionary biology; genetics; ecology; computational biology and bioinformatics; and cancer biology. Faculty and students in the Department of Biology work on research relevant to global environmental change, human diseases, crop sciences and sustainability, and many other problems with the potential for translational impacts on human well-being.  The many active research laboratories of the department also provide abundant opportunities for undergraduate students to get involved in research and gain valuable technical preparation for graduate and professional schools or the life sciences workforce.

Information about specific faculty research programs can be found at links to faculty web pages.


Nantucket Field Station

For information, visit the Nantucket Field Station webpage. 


In the winter of 2011, NatureServe and the University of Massachusetts Boston (the Biology and Computer Science departments and the School for the Environment) entered into a Memorandum of Understanding to pursue a joint engagement in collaborative, interdisciplinary projects at the interface between biology, computer sciences, and other fields. This partnership will capitalize on a number of key opportunities and potential synergies, including hands-on experience for undergraduates in the areas of applied biodiversity and bioinformatics sciences and access to NatureServe data for research students and faculty. As part of the agreement, NatureServe funds a half-time Graduate Research assistant.

UMass Boston NatureServe staff work on a variety of projects. Many of these are described briefly below. We welcome your interest and conversation about possible collaborative ventures.


NatureServe Staff




Margaret Ormes,
Director, Science Information Resources





Nicole Sears,
Associate Zoologist/Information Scientist


NatureServe Projects

Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS): ITIS is a partnership of U.S. federal agencies that develops and maintains authoritative information on species names and classification. NatureServe has been working with the ITIS Data Development Team at the Smithsonian Institution to update the taxonomy of selected taxonomic groups. We are currently working on two projects with ITIS. One focuses on updates to mammal, bird, and beetle taxonomy. The  other focuses on State Wildlife Action (SWAP) species that are not currently represented in the ITIS database.

Red List Assessments of North American Freshwater Fish: The IUCN Red List is a comprehensive, global approach for evaluating the conservation status of plants and animals.  NatureServe zoologist Geoff Hammerson (based in Washington State) is currently working on a project to complete Red List Assessments for North American freshwater fishes.  NatureServe Boston staff are assisting with taxonomic updates, references, and transfer of data to the Red List system.  Work-study student Katrine Sinclair is assisting with the map updates.

Data Management: NatureServe maintains an array of information about conservation status, taxonomy, life history, distribution, and habitat requirements of plants, animals, and ecological communities, following a standard methodology. NatureServe Boston focuses on the development, maintenance, and distribution of authoritative zoological information, including the exchange of data with our member programs.  Our work-study students are assisting with several data management tasks: a review of moth and beetle taxonomy for species occurring in Ontario and Rhode Island; a review of dragonfly and damselfly taxonomy; a review of North American stonefly distribution and taxonomy; and a review of Canadian spider taxonomy and distribution.

Ecological Classification: Over the last three decades, NatureServe ecologists devised comprehensive, standardized classification of vegetation and coastal/marine habitats.  With the classification, we can answer questions such as: how many different forest types are there? What is the range and distribution of bogs? How do salt marshes in the north compare to those in the south?  Numerous different collaborations provide opportunities to refine and update the classifications, the National Park Service Vegetation Mapping Program, LandFire, Gap Analysis Program, US Forest Service, EPA, to name a few. Work-study student Ambara Adan is researching citations for the Ecology program.

Vegetation Mapping of Federal Lands: NatureServe ecologists have worked in partnership with mappers (and in some cases producing the maps in-house) to develop vegetation maps of many federal lands, including National Parks and National Wildlife Refuges. Two large mapping projects on National Park Service lands are in progress: the Appalachian Trail and the National Capital Region, a network of 11 parks in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. The Appalachian Trail stretches from Maine to Georgia. This massive classification effort involves a massive classification effort involving many state natural heritage programs, managed by NatureServe ecologists in collaboration with the USGS Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center, whose staff are producing the map. The National Capital Region vegetation mapping project has been managed by NatureServe in collaboration with the National Park Service and the Virginia Division of Natural Heritage. This project is nearing completion, with map accuracy assessment to be concluded in 2012.  Field guides to the vegetation of these parks are in progress, with the recent completion of a web-based guide to Rock Creek Park, and a guide to Catoctin Mountain currently underway.

Landfire: Landfire is an interagency mapping program that develops spatial data layers to support land management analysis and modeling. We are working with the LandFire program to update the national map of ecological systems. The map was produced using a combination of satellite imagery and field data collected by a vast number of people over many years. NatureServe ecologists, including those in Boston, are currently assessing the automated key developed to classify the field data used in this project.

Climate Change: The Climate Change Vulnerability Index (CCVI) was designed by NatureServe as a tool to assess species vulnerability to climate change. Our botany staff in Arlington, Virginia have been working on a project to assess selected western plant species. The CCVI assessment process requires information on pollination, phenology, and species interactions. Work study students Christina Paris and Katrine Sinclair researched information on these factors for the species we are working on. We are also working on assessments of selected species in the eastern US for the USFWS North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative, in collaboration with Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences.  Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCC) are a network of partnerships of Federal and state governments, non-governmental organizations, universities, and private individuals working together to conserve biodiversity using a comprehensive approach. There are 21 LCC’s covering the entire US, two of which are responsible for the northeastern states. In addition to the North Atlantic LCC, the Appalachian LCC has recently begun its planning effort as well. 

Upcoming Projects

NatureServe has many other exciting projects that may be of interest to UMass Boston faculty and students. A few are highlighted below.

Mobile Observations System: With support from the National Science Foundation, a NatureServe–led team has developed a Mobile Observations System to gather, collect, manage, and share up-to-date information on plants, animals, and habitats more efficiently. We have made the source code available so that future releases can benefit from contributions by the open-source developer community. 

Invasive Species: Our Invasive Species Assessment Protocol assesses non-native plants found in North America according to their impacts on native plants, animals, and natural communities.

Departmental Achievements