|Conserving Biodiversity (BOSTID, 1992)|
|2 Biological Aspects Of Conservation|
All conservation work in developing countries, but especially basic research on biological diversity, is hindered by a lack of trained personnel. The recommendations offered below have been mentioned earlier in this report, but are reiterated here because of their fundamental importance. In some countries it may simply be impossible to carry out specific projects suggested in this report because few local scientists or resource managers have the necessary training and experience. Taxonomists and conservation-oriented ecologists and biologists, scarce to begin with, are overwhelmingly concentrated in industrialized nations. At the same time, career conservationists in developing countries must often contend with a lack of support from their own governments. Thus, the implementation of conservation programs in developing countries is often contingent on the availability of foreign expertise and the continued willingness of host countries to have their conservation programs dependent on foreign nationals.
This dangerous situation must be remedied if the conservation of biological diversity is to become a continuing, ingrained activity in developing countries. In turn, both the fostering of a strong corps of local trained conservation personnel and the strengthening of institutions that guide, support, and coordinate their work, are necessary. In this context, the role of international networks is particularly important, including, for example, the Latin American Plant Sciences Network; the programs of the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU); the Third World Academy of Sciences; the African Academy of Sciences; and the Unesco-supported African BioSciences Network.
The urgent need for manpower to formulate and conduct research and applied conservation activities prohibits the lengthy process traditionally employed to train ecologists, taxonomists, or resource managers. There is simply not enough time to produce enough people by these methods. The situation demands new types of paraprofessionals and new ways of producing them. There is also a desperate need to strengthen the capabilities of in-country agencies and institutions
responsible for the conservation and management of natural resources. Development agencies, charged with institution and manpower development, have the unique experience, capabilities, and resources to address these problems.
To strengthen the human resources necessary to survey, research, monitor, and manage biological diversity in developing nations, the following actions are needed.
Developing Taxonomic Expertise
International development agencies should sponsor and support the development of taxonomic expertise, both paraprofessional and professional, as an increasingly important part of their conservation programs.
Many of the recommendations outlined presume the existence of the taxonomic expertise to carry them out. Yet the cadre of trained taxonomists necessary to perform this work simply does not exist. To describe, inventory, classify, monitor, and manage biological diversity, such expertise must be cultivated. It is the foundation on which the study and conservation of biological diversity are built.
The situation is not new, and the call for a response has been heard before. The report Research Priorities in Tropical Biology (NAS, 1980) recommended that "high priority . . . be set on training and support for much larger numbers of systematists oriented toward tropical organisms. At least a five-fold increase in the number of systematists is necessary to deal with a significant proportion of the estimated diversity while it is still available for study. Governments would be well advised to allocate resources in an effort to achieve this objective." Since the 1980 report, little progress has been made in meeting this fundamental need. Another decade of neglect cannot be allowed to elapse.
Taxonomic expertise for certain groups of organisms is almost nonexistent. For example, termites and ants constitute approximately 30 percent of the world's animal biomass, and are of enormous ecological significance. Yet there are less than a few dozen people worldwide who are able to classify, or even competently sort, specimens. There are not even five people in the world who can identify, sort, or characterize free-living nematodes. Some 12,000 species of nematodes have been described, including all that are animal parasites and cause diseases in domesticated plants. It is estimated that a million species of free-living nematodes may exist worldwide, but because there are no systematists working with them, no organized evaluation of the diversity in this group can be made. The story is similar for mites. Again, it has been roughly estimated that a million species exist, yet only 30,000 have been described. Although it may not be possible to support specialists in these groups in all developing countries, it is imperative that the expertise to at least sample these species be encouraged.
Many factors have contributed to the paucity of trained personnel including a shortage of research and teaching positions for systematists the lack of training grants, and competition from other areas of biology (NSB, 1989). Academic departments throughout the world have beer trading organismal biologists for molecular biologists, with the result that fewer undergraduates are exposed to taxonomy and, hence, giver the opportunity to pursue these fields in graduate schools. The situation must be changed through the creation of more positions for taxonomist at all levels and of programs to inform students interested in taxonomy of the opportunities that exist. In addition, support for research should be made available to students and faculty alike.
These problems are especially prevalent in developing countries where the need is most evident. The situation is exacerbated by poverty, scarce funds, inadequate institutional support, and a genera lack of trained native scientists. Although developing countries contain 77 percent of the world's people and 80 percent of the world' biodiversity, they have no more than 15 percent of the world's wealth and only 6 percent of the world's scientists and engineers live an' work in them. The industrial countries and development agencies can do much to build a base of taxonomic expertise by providing more amply in their assistance programs for strengthening the institutions in which taxonomic work is based (see following recommendation).
The positive side of this situation is that great rewards can be obtained by employing nontraditionally trained people in this work The notable example of this, again, is INBio in Costa Rica. It should be noted that in augmenting the taxonomic proficiency of personnel in developing countries, many other areas of scientific research an application will be served. Systematists are indispensable for progress in all fields of basic and applied biology, including ecology, fisheries biology, range management, forestry, agriculture, horticulture, and the veterinary and medical sciences (NSB, 1989).
To promote awareness of the basic importance of taxonomic work internally, international development agencies should develop an conduct crash courses in taxonomy and conservation, using approaches similar to those employed in plant breeding programs. Agencies can also provide an important service by designing and testing data management systems for ease of use by conservation paraprofessionals and for transferability across cultures. In some cases, it may be possible to meet these needs by strengthening existing training centers, such c Mweka in Tanzania, Garoua in Camaroon Dehra Dun in India,Bariloche in Argentina, and the Centro Agronómica Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza (CATIE) in Costa Rica (McNeely, 1989).
Strengthening Local Institutions
Because the fate of biological diversity' in developing countries depends ultimately upon the sense of stewardship, the scientific capacities, and the administrative structures within these countries, it is highly important that development agencies invest in strengthening local institutions.
Only native institutions are capable of imparting the understanding of biological diversity to the general public and the proficiency among professionals that will result in effective conservation. It is especially important that development agencies support nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), educational institutions, museums, and libraries in developing countries, and foster effective operation of the government agencies legally charged with managing resources. Unless this local capacity grows, effective conservation will continue to rely too much on the concerns, expertise, and changing priorities of foreign institutions.
The support of museums and libraries in developing countries is crucial. Museums often contain irreplaceable samples of the biota of their countries. In general, unfortunately, they are poorly supported. Whether they exist in universities or government ministries, or as public institutions, museums should receive special assistance from development agencies as baseline institutions for the collection and classification of organisms. Botanical gardens, arboreta, herbaria, aquaria, seed banks, and zoos, although generally uncommon in the developing world, are to be encouraged as essential for the documentation of local biological knowledge, and as locations for ex situ conservation efforts. Specifically, development agencies should assist nations in determining which germ plasm should be conserved ex situ, and which national institutions should be charged with the maintenance of different collections. Personnel should be trained in the latest curatorial techniques.
The public awareness and educational activities of these institutions should also be improved and encouraged to involve local populations more actively-thereby improving the possibilities for recurrent cost recovery. Development agencies should provide seed funding for this kind of activity, with the prospect of phasing out funds as local support is generated from government, voluntary activities, and donations.
It is especially important for development agencies to support those government agencies charged with the protection and management of natural resources (and hence biodiversity) both in the field and in ex situ collections (e.g., ministries of agriculture, forestry, fisheries,energy, and parks). Only through strengthening these legitimate institutions can the preservation and sustainable management of biological resources be ingrained in the society.
The diversity and complexity of ecological, political, social, and economic conditions in developing countries has led to the burgeoning of locally based nongovernmental organizations that serve as important conduits for the flow of information to, from, and among local people and communities. Some of these organizations focus on conservation, but many others with an interest and a stake in land use issues lack the experience, resources, and personnel to follow up on their concerns. National and international development agencies need to support the involvement of NGOs as intermediaries between government agencies, universities, and local communities in support of the methods and goals of biodiversity conservation. Such investments can have profound consequences. In the long term, providing funding and political support for NGOs will be more effective in shaping environmentally and socially acceptable land use policies, based on local needs and priorities, than the dictation of policy by foreign and international governments and institutions.
Expanding Cooperative Research Programs
New and existing programs of international cooperative research should undertake research on biological diversity as a fundamental part of their mission, and should be given the financial and administrative support to do so.
International cooperative research programs that are currently devoted to crop agriculture, forestry, aquaculture, livestock management, and other resource uses in developing countries should give greater attention to biodiversity within their research and development programs. Biodiversity and its relationship to sustainable land use are so central to attainment of development goals that they should be fundamental considerations in carrying out all research programs involving natural resource management. In particular, these programs need to involve more systematists and other biologists to perform basic research on biodiversity in developing countries (NRC, 1991d).
In the past, progress toward sustainable resource management has been hindered by policies and technologies based on discipline-specific research. In the future, land use and resource management must overcome these boundaries, and interdisciplinary research must provide the knowledge to do so (Soulé and Kohm, 1989). The conservation of biodiversity should not be pursued as an isolated area of research, but integrated into the activities of all research institutions and programs that affect land use in developing countries.
Research conducted under the auspices of the International Council of Scientific Unions and Unesco's Man and the Biosphere Program provide important models for the integration of biodiversity studies in a multidisciplinary research framework. In addition, several new cooperative research and training programs have begun to incorporate this approach. For example, within the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources Management (SANREM) Cooperative Research Support Program and the Program on Scientific and Technical Cooperation (PSTC), a competitive grants program designed to fund innovative research projects, both involve significant biodiversity research components (NRC, 1991d). The Global Environmental Facility (GEF) of the World Bank also promises to give greater attention to research on biodiversity.
While these efforts are to be commended, the general level of financial and administrative support within international research organizations is still far too meager, given the magnitude of the problem. Put more positively, great opportunities exist for constructive and mutually beneficial cooperation between scientists working on the conservation of biological diversity and scientists in other fields of land use, resource management, and rural development. Development agencies should encourage this cooperation-not just as a new aspect of research, but as a new and increasingly necessary way to perform research.