Monday, June 26, 2006

TEAM initiative at Conservation International

Conservation International's TEAM (Tropical Ecology, Assessment & Monitoring) Initiative has the potential to be an initiative to integrate observation data and systematics into a cutting edge conservation project. Furthermore, it is organized from one of the most successful international NGOs (Conservation International), and thus might have the necessary resources.

When I recently visited its Web site and looked at the list of the participants at their recent TEAM meeting in Brazil, read through their manual (exaclty those on ants, a domain in which I have some knowledge), and went through my disussions I had in Brazil last November at the Simposio de Mirmecologia, some fundamental questions came up. Obviously, there must be a lot of money available to fly so many people, including top journalists, to such a meeting.

At the same time, there seems to be by far not enough money to process, identify and store the specimen. The two liner attached to the section on specimen processing and identification for ants represents almost prefectly, what will be a serious flaw endangering the entire ant part of this project, and I to some extent the future of the inclusion of invertebrates into global surveys and monitoring programs.

"Specimen processing and identification
Samples should be identified by an expert taxonomist, or under the supervision of one. Details regarding this process will be specified in later versions of this document."

In all the current leaf litter projects around the world, the identification of specimens is the bottle neck. And this in projects, where there is over ten years of experience (Fisher in Madgascar, Delabie in Bahia, Brandao in Sao Paulo, Longino in Costa Rica). If at least all those few specialists would have been involved in TEAM (and appropriately paid, so they can spend prime time on the project) then this could lead to synergisms - but this seems not to happen.

Synergisms would also arise if more thought would be given to sharing knowledge on ants. Working on ants has one advantage, that the IT infrastructure is one of the most elaborate for any taxon world wide:
- The entire catalogue of all the 11906 species of ants is online available at the Hymenoptera Name Server;
- almost the entire body of descriptions of ants is online (ca 80,000 pages, linked to the catalogue );
- specimen databases using digir, and thus linked for example through GBIF exist (eg;
- species pages including cutting edge imagery exist (e.g. antweb, which allow to go back to the single specimen, literature, bibliography ( or even including other relevant information such as gen sequences, but always based on the original specimen ( This is far beyond lists of species per region or simple images of specimens.
- Effords are on its way to extract all the information from the original literature (dig lib), leading in the development of specific xml mark up schemas for literature.
- Character matrix manipulation tools exist, including a large data set of morphological characters and thousands of SEMs are available, which are soon being released.
- There are even tools to up- and download leaf litter sample matrices, linked to specimen, and specifically designed to complement the Ants: Measuring and Monitoring Biodiversity book used as baseline for the TEAM ant monitoring protocol.
- CEPLAC in Brazil has itself establisehd as a fine resources for identification of Neotropical (especially Amazon Basin and Mata Atlantic) ants, similarily to the Zoological Museum in Sao Paulo, similarily the Bibikely Biodiversity Research Institute in Madadgascar, or the ANeT organisation in Asia.

So, how can TEAM explain, that it is not tapping into these resources?

Collaboration with other ant teams world wide would also allow integration of ants into related initiatives, such as analysing CI's hotspots, countdown2010 (eg through the Sampled Red List Index).

But none of these resources seems being used, and thus, with all my optimism, I can not see, that this part of the TEAM project has a chance to florish, which would be a tragedy beyond CI-TEAM.


Blogger Angela Ma. Antonini Paiva said...

Hi Dr. Agosti
Unfortunately just today I saw your post about TEAM Protocol. I perfectly agree with you in all senses...

3:56 PM  

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