“AndinoNET: A Regional Initiative in Support of Taxonomy” José A. Clavijo A. Potentials and Challenges of DNA Barcoding in South America Campinas, March 2007
For the last 20 years, the number of taxonomists working in the different biological areas has been steadily decreasing, a tendency that is evident worldwide and to which the Andean region does not escape. This situation has generated an inability to correctly identify the components of our biodiversity, making much more difficult their adequate use and sharply increasing the possibility of committing serious mistakes in their management.
Which are the main causes of this decline? • Competition from other areas of knowledge • Society's inadequate perception of the importance of taxonomists and their own role in the development of this image.
The reduction in the number of taxonomists and the lack of economical support given to the institutions that dedicate themselves to this area has brought amongst other consequences: • Identification errors. • Tardiness in the identification process. • Increase in the fees for identification, reaching in some cases 100 USD/specimen. • Dependency, with a marked discrimination towards some regionsor countries.
The Andean countries host an important number of institutions that maintain valuable collections of organisms, particularly in Colombia, Ecuador, Perú and Venezuela. These collections are mainly associated to institutions of higher education, a condition considered by some to be an important strength for their continuity. Even though there is an important number of taxonomists that work in these collections, an increase is urgently needed if the sheer megadiversity of this region is taken into consideration.
What strategies must be developed in order to improve our capacity to give solutions to the taxonomical needs of the Andean region ?
Amongst these strategies we have: • Creation of regional networks with the objective of sharing our strengths and diminishing our weaknesses. • Increased support and creation of institutions and projects that are dedicated to taxonomical research in our countries. • Increased formation of the human resources directly linked to research in this area. • Diffusion of the generated taxonomical information, through modern and economically feasible means.
With these strategies in mind, a group of researchers and institutions of international prestige in biosystematics came together and created:
What is BioNET-INTERNATIONAL? The world network for taxonomy (http://www.bionet-intl.org), created in 1993, with a specific mandate to facilitate the establishment of Subregional Technical Cooperation Networks (TCNs; a defined figure by the UNDP), that has managed to create a network of over 1000 institutions in more than 120 countries.
The National Organism Reference Centers (NORC), as part of the National Biological Collection System “Virtual” centers formed by the institutions and researchers that work in organism biosystematics in each country, interconnected electronically, that would unite both the private and national institutions. This with the support of the respective governments, private national and foreign entities, as a fundamental part of the National Biological Collection System. The integration of the Andean NORCs would constitute the Andean Organism Reference Center or AORC.
The National Graduate Programs in Systematics and Organism Bio-ecology and the conformation of the Andean Graduate Program Systems They will base their existence in the use of the human and material resources of the different institutions involved in each country, integrating them in order to create a system of Andean Graduate Programs, with an intra and extra regional projection.
Improvement and/or construction of new buildings and the development of strategic alliances The need arises for the development of projects that have as objectives to improve the conditions of the collections and museums that are currently functioning, so to guarantee the preservation of the valuable specimens deposited and to accomplish a higher efficiency in research. And in the same manner, to promote the strategic alliances between institutions with common interests, with the purpose of strengthening and improving their individual functioning.
Production and Distribution of taxonomical research support materials, of easy access and low cost This would include amongst others, the production of organism identification keys, catalogs (faunistical, floral, etc), collection maintenance manuals, and any other related topic of interest, for both specialists and the general public. These materials must be produced by modern means, with an emphasis set on e-products, due to their low costs, high graphic qualities and simple distribution.
Development of regional research projects This would include the development of projects on topics of general interest such as: data base on species of agricultural and medical importance; fast identification techniques (ei. the barcoding method), development of regional quarantine programs, etc.
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