James Edwards

Senior Advisor, Encyclopedia of Life


Dr. James Edwards is a Senior Advisor to the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL). From May 2007 to May 2010, Dr. Edwards served as the first Executive Director of the Encyclopedia of Life. Under his leadership, EOL grew into a site that now serves hundreds of thousands of species pages which in turn are linked to more than 27 million pages of literature through the Biodiversity Heritage Library. Dr. Edwards also engaged over 60 partner institutions and established agreements for several regional EOL versions around the world.


From November 2001 to May 2007, Dr. Edwards served as the Executive Secretary of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), an intergovernmental organization devoted to providing Internet access to two major kinds of information: specimens in natural history collections (museums, botanical gardens, living stock centers) and observations of organisms where a specimen was not collected (such as the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Counts). These data document the presence of plants, animals, and microorganisms in both space and time and therefore provide a comprehensive view of the world’s contemporary and historical biodiversity. GBIF and the EOL are preparing a Memorandum of Understanding to allow GBIF-mediated data to be made available through the EOL.


From 1982 to 2007, Dr. Edwards served in the Directorate for Biological Sciences of the National Science Foundation (NSF), where he successively occupied positions as Program Director for several programs (Systematic Biology, Biological Research Resources, Field Stations and Marine Laboratories, and Biotic Surveys and Inventories), Deputy Division Director for Biotic Systems and Resources, and Deputy Assistant Director for Biological Sciences.


During his time at NSF, Dr. Edwards became increasingly interested in the application of computers to documenting and understanding biological diversity. This led to his chairing of a working group on Biological Informatics at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which in 1999 recommended the formation of GBIF. Dr. Edwards then chaired the Interim Steering Committee which developed the Memorandum of Understanding for the organization and recruited the requisite number of governmental members and funding to allow it to come into existence in March, 2001. From 2001 to 2007, NSF detailed him to Copenhagen to be the Executive Secretary of GBIF.


Currently, Dr. Edwards sits on several international committees and boards, including the International Steering Committee of the Consultative Process towards an International Mechanism of Scientific Expertise on Biodiversity; the Council of the International Organization for Systematic and Evolutionary Biology; the International Board of Advisors for the Research Centre for Biodiversity of Academia Sinica; and the Executive Committee of the Consortium for the Barcode of Life.


Dr. Edwards received his B.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of California at Berkeley. His research interests are the systematics and functional morphology of amphibians and fishes, and biodiversity informatics.


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