Location of Sakhalin Island (red) in the Southwest of the Okhotsk Sea.

The enormous potential for biotic survey in the Russian Far East has been demonstrated by our successful efforts in the Kuril Archipelago. We now propose to put the Kuril work into the broader context of a long-term, large-scale survey and inventory that encompasses all of Okhotskia, here defined as the landmasses that enclose the Sea of Okhotsk: the Kuril Islands in the southeast (now being surveyed as Phase 1), Sakhalin Island in the west (Phase 2, this proposal), and the Okhotsk coast of southeastern Siberia in the north and Kamchatka in the northeast (Phases 3 and 4, future proposals). Okhotskia is one of the most biologically diverse yet poorly known regions within the Holarctic Realm. For political reasons, but also because of its remoteness and severe climate, all but a few Russian biologists have ignored this region. Information about the plants and animals of Okhotskia is largely unknown outside Russia and what little is available is published in Russian and thus inaccessible to most students and scientists. Although we now have large, diverse, and exceptionally well-documented collections from the Kuril Islands, natural history collections from the remaining parts of Okhotskia are small, relatively poorly documented, and confined primarily to a few Russian institutions.

A detailed biotic survey and inventory of the Russian island of Sakhalin, as Phase 2 of this expanded effort, is a logical and much needed extension to our work in the Kurils Archipelago. As one of four primary source biotas for the colonization of the Kuril Islands—the others being Hokkaido, Kamchatka, and the Asian mainland—Sakhalin is by far the least known biologically and in the greatest danger of over-exploitation. Narrowly separated from the continent for nearly 1,000 km and almost touching Hokkaido, Japan, at its southern tip, it forms a natural filter or barrier to dispersal of plants and animals from the Asian mainland to the Kurils. Although considerable information is available for wide-ranging, commercially important species, such as king crab, salmon, cod, and various marine mammals, the flora and fauna of Sakhalin as a whole are poorly known. At the same time, a steep rise in commercial exploitation of natural resources poses a serious environmental threat to the island.

With experience gained during seven seasons of survey and inventory on the 30 major islands of the Kuril Archipelago, we now propose that a team of Russian, Japanese, and American scientists conduct a large-scale survey and inventory of the d plants, insects, spiders, freshwater and terrestrial mollusks, freshwater fishes, amphibians, and reptiles of Sakhalin Island. Through simultaneous requests submitted by Russian and Japanese participants, to the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), respectively, the cost of the work will be shared by all three nations. NSF has already awarded first-year funding for this project (DEB 0071655) and JSPS is presently considering parallel support beginning in April 2001. We now seek to expand the work on Sakhalin to encompass a full five years.

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 those of the Kuril Islands and 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, while adding significantly to our goal to eventually survey all of Okhotskia, the work on Sakhalin will provide a foundation of information that will promote long-term future research as well as conservation of the unique island biotas of the entire Sakhalin-Kuril administrative district.

Copyright © University of Washington Fish Collection.