Conservation and biological monitoring of tropical forests: the role of parataxonomists


Yves Basset, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Apartado 2072, Balboa, Ancon, Panama City, Republic of Panama (fax + 507 2128148; e-mail


  • 1The demise of tropical rain forests will lead to a large-scale extinction of genetic diversity, particularly of arthropods. Curtailing these trends might be facilitated by (i) reducing rates of habitat loss and degradation, (ii) enhancing systematics and (iii) increasing the flow of primary information on tropical biodiversity.
  • 2We emphasize the need to examine alternative approaches that could generate a constant stream of data from tropical ecosystems. We argue that data collecting by parataxonomists (local assistants trained by professional biologists) represents one of the most efficient approaches to the study of tropical ecosystems available to date.
  • 3Parataxonomists can provide high-quality biological specimens and ecological information; statistical power will be high due to large sample sizes of data; database growth will be rapid and results will be published in a timely manner; and there will be collateral education of local people in conservation biology by the parataxonomists themselves.
  • 4We stress that training local parataxonomists to inventory and monitor biodiversity is a promising and efficient strategy that deserves more attention in conservation biology. In particular, it may be one of the most feasible approaches for the biological monitoring of small and cryptic organisms in species-rich environments, such as invertebrates in tropical rain forests.
  • 5Synthesis and applications. Permanent botanical plots yield a wealth of data on the organization of tropical forests, and their numbers should be increased to monitor tropical biodiversity. Likewise, augmenting the number of local parataxonomist groups in various tropical countries and networking these contingents to monitor functionally diverse taxa may provide an efficient biological monitoring system in tropical forests.