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Porcupine! time has come around again, leading to the regular ritual whereby Richard Corlett (ferret) badgers me to write something, I say "yes" and then forget about it, Richard badgers me again (gnaws my leg, etc.), and so on. The cycle continues until I realise he is not going to give up ( badgers are persistent animals). Whereupon I sit down and write this. Ecology and the environment have been much in the news of late both locally (the Long Valley appeal … still sub judice) and internationally (Dubya Bush, climate change, and the Kyoto ‘agreement’). Things have been happening here in the Department of Ecology & Biodiversity (DEB) as well. Firstly, the release of Version 2.0 of the Biodiversity Survey Database on CD-ROM. Copies were provided to the Environment and Conservation Fund Secretariat (c/o the Environment & Food Bureau) in March, for onward distribution to interested parties. The database, in GIS format (for use with ARC/INFO or Arcview), now includes almost 5,000 species and 95,000 records. Apart from the addition of many new records (mostly insects), we have corrected some minor mistakes in the data set, and made minor alterations to species names where there have been nomenclatural changes or where new information has become available.

What else is new? There have been changes to DEB senior staff. Steve Pointing (of whom, more on page 3) formerly held a research position in the department, but has now been appointed Assistant Professor. Dr Xuhua Xia will be moving to the Hong Kong University … Pasteur Research Centre this September where he will be focussing on bioinformatics research. We wish him well for the future. In the meantime, DEB has been carrying out a recruitment exercise to fill the vacated post. I hope that by the time you read this, the matter will be settled. This will allow Richard to badger the new recruit into providing a personal profile for the next issue of Porcupine! Which leads me to think that the time might be ripe for another change. How does Badger! sound?

VSB scoops award! Crowds roar

Many of you will be aware that the Department of Ecology & Biodiversity has been working in collaboration with the University of Nottingham (UK) and other partners in order to develop an IT-intensive, teaching and learning initiative: the Virtual School of Biodiversity (VSB). Porcupine! 18 gives more details of the aims and objectives of the VSB. As this issue of Porcupine! goes to press, we have just learned that the VSB has been awarded the first-place award in the category "Best Web-based or IT-enhanced learning initiative" in the 1st HKU IT in Education Awards. The prize comes at a fortuitous time. The VSB received a funding extending over two years from the University Grants Committee; unfortunately, the money runs out on August 31. Hopefully, this first-place award will provide wider recognition of the value of the work of the VSB and aid in the search to place it on a more secure financial footing. In the meantime, congratulations to all concerned - especially, Alan, Benny, Gray, John and Lando … for their efforts.

David Dudgeon





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