Location of the Kuril Archipelago (red) in the Western North Pacific Ocean.

The islands of the Kuril Archipelago form the eastern boundary of the Okhotsk Sea and a bridge between Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan, and the Russian peninsula of Kamchatka. They are a natural laboratory for investigations into the origin, subsequent evolution, and long-term maintenance of insular populations. Although considerable information is available for wide-ranging, commercially important species, such as salmon and marine mammals, the flora and fauna of the Kurils as a whole are poorly known. At the same time, the current political situation poses a serious environmental threat to the islands.

In this request, it is proposed that a team of American, Russian, and Japanese scientists conduct a survey and inventory of the plants, insects, spiders, freshwater and terrestrial mollusks, freshwater fishes, and terrestrial vertebrates of the Kuril Islands. With financial support already committed to the project by the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, the cost of the work will be shared by all three nations. With experience gained in 1994 collecting on the four primary islands of the "disputed" southern Kurils (whose rightful ownership is the focus of long-standing debate between Russia and Japan), it is now proposed that the work be extended over the next five years to include all major islands of the Archipelago.

Using standardized survey methods, modern computer-based inventory procedures, and dissemination of information through the Internet, the results of the survey will provide important baseline data on patterns of species diversity that can be compared accurately with other regions sampled in similar ways. Working cooperatively with universities and the national and local governments of the host country, the project will provide training for faculty, students, and government biologists. Finally, the work will provide a foundation of information that will promote long-term future research as well as conservation of these unique island biotas.

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