Biodiversity Inventories in Costa Rica and
Their Application to Conservation
BIODIVERSITY INVENTORYING and monitoring provide essential information used by many basic scientific disciplines as well as many applied sciences such as biotechnology, agriculture, fisheries, and conservation. Most inventorying and monitoring have involved organisms that are relatively well known taxonomically— for example, vertebrates and vascular plants. Yet the poorly known groups of organisms, such as invertebrates and fungi, constitute the majority of the species. Conservation decisions based on data for a limited range of organisms having relatively few species can be misleading (Prendergast et al. 1993). Moreover, poorly known groups of organisms tend to be smaller in size and to have shorter generation times, which means that they respond more rapidly to environmental changes (Brown 1991). Thus, taxonomically difficult organisms are often good indicators of environmental change and can help us to realize that a problem exists before the plants and vertebrates are affected. However, basic taxonomic research is needed before these poorly known groups of organisms can be used in monitoring and other conservation activities.
The problem is that there are too few taxonomists working on the most species-rich groups of organisms (Gaston and May 1992; Hawksworth and Ritchie 1993; Hammond 1995). Worse yet, taxonomists who have a lifetime's experience are retiring, and the knowledge they possess (much of it unpublished) is not being recovered through firsthand transfer to young recruits (Cotterill 1995). In recent years developed countries have begun reducing government expenditures, and thus funding of national museums has diminished markedly in real terms. Increasingly such institutions are expected to become more self-sufficient. This means that traditional taxonomic research now has to compete with more attractive proposals in evolutionary biology, the latter often addressing species/population level