recognize the tremendous diversity in the earthís tropical rainforests,
and many pursue research projects in them.
Despite the great interest in studying the rainforests, there arenít
enough highly trained taxonomists who are resident in those locations,
which means that the existing capacity to collect and analyze specimens
is not great enough to support the high amount of research to be done.
A strategy has emerged for developing on-site expertise, a form of
"capacity building", while pursuing research - and NMNH
entomologists and their colleagues provide examples of this growing
trend. In pursuing the goal of understanding the earthís biodiversity,
scientists increasingly are training and relying upon parataxonomists
when collecting and identifying insects, plants and animals.
Pictured above: Agra eowilsoni
Erwin. Illustration by George L. Venable.)
NMNH Entomologist Scott Miller and his
colleagues Yves Basset, Vojtech Novotny, and others have an on-going
project in Papua New Guinea that effectively melds the gathering of
biodiversity information and training of local people in fundamental aspects of
collecting, taxonomic identification and insect collections care while
benefiting from the local peoples' detailed knowledge of plant/insect
relationships. In their October, 2000, paper "Quantifying
Biodiversity: Experience with Parataxonomists and Digital Photography in
Papua New Guinea and Guyana" as published in BioScience volume
50 no. 10, pp.899-908, they describe the development of a core of
parataxonomists at research sites in Papua New Guinea and Guyana, and
demonstrate that ecological research can benefit from collaboration
with local people. Miller's professional collaborator Vojtech
Novotny is from
the Institute of Entomology of the Czech Academy of Science, the Biological
Faculty of the University of South Bohemia. Yves Basset is based at
the Smithsonian Tropical
Research Institute (STRI).
Another example of the fruitful collaboration between scientists and parataxonomists is in the on-going research project Arthropods of La Selva, Costa Rica (ALAS). This project is a joint effort by the National Institute of Biodiversity in Costa Rica (INBio) and the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS). The ALAS project is contributing to the understanding of insect species richness in Costa Rica by combining both traditional systematics approaches to estimating biodiversity as well as ecological approaches. Parataxonomists are responsible for all day-to-day operations, including specimen mounting, labeling, database entry, loans of specimens, as well as local financial management and outreach. NMNH entomologists are participating in that project as taxonomic collaborators, including Jonathan Coddington, Don Davis, Marc Epstein, Terry Erwin, David Furth and NMNH research associate Charles Staines. Also collaborating are resident entomologists hailing from NMNH's affiliated agency, the US Department of Agriculture, Systematic Entomology Laboratory, including John W. Brown, David Nickle, Alan Norrbom, Ron Ochoa, David R. Smith, Alma Solis, Chris Thompson, and Norm Woodley.