All Taxa Biological Inventory Workshop Report

Scott Miller scottm at BISHOP.BISHOP.HAWAII.ORG
Mon Aug 2 09:47:21 CDT 1993


        Scott Miller, Bishop Museum, Box 19,000-A, Honolulu, Hawaii 96817

        In  April 1993, 57 specialists convened for a three day  workshop
        at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia to discuss  the
        concept and mechanics of an All Taxa Biological Inventory (ATBI).
        Participants had backgrounds in managing biotic surveys or infor-
        mation, and represented more-or-less the full range of terrestri-
        al  and freshwater taxa.  For logistic reasons, the marine  envi-
        ronment was excluded from discussion, although several  represen-
        tatives were present to provide cross linkage to similar process-
        es underway among marine scientists.  Most participants came from
        the  United States, but Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Brazil,  Nor-
        way,  England, and Australia were represented. The  workshop  was
        organized  by Dan Janzen and Winnie Hallwachs with  funding  from
        NSF.  An overview recently appeared in SCIENCE (260: 620-622,  30
        April 1993), so I will focus more on details here.

        For discussion purposes, the physical characteristics of an  ATBI
        were  expected  to  be as follows.  Some of  the  parameters  are
        determined  by biological needs, others by logistic or  political
        realities.  A single large site, 50,000-100,000 hectares, includ-
        ing  diverse habitats.  The site should be subject to  long  term
        preservation (e.g., national park or similar status), but  should
        include  disturbed habitats.  An ATBI would be a complete  inven-
        tory of all taxa to the maximum extent possible, including fungi,
        bacteria,  and viruses.  Collections will be made within  a  grid
        system  (GPS/GIS-referenced) via sampling strategies  that  allow
        maximum  information retrieval in the future, and will be  appro-
        priately  vouchered.  Modern  information  management,  including
        global interactive access to data via Internet, is crucial.   For
        simplicity,  I  refer here to one ATBI site, but it  is  expected
        that  once  one gets underway, others would be started  in  other

        An  ATBI  must  be a cooperative, synergistic  effort,  with  all
        involved  working  closely  together.  For  example,  birds  have
        insect  parasites,  which have protozoan parasites,  so  sampling
        strategies  must  be coordinated.  Training of  systematists,  as
        well as land managers and others, will be built in. The inventory
        would  include passing the species collected "through the  filter
        of  what we know" to add biological and phylogenetic  information
        to the knowledge base.

        As has been recognized by Association of Systematics  Collections
        workshops  in  recent years, there is a serious lack  of  trained
        systematists, as well as collections and research facilities, for
        microbes  and many invertebrates (especially non-arthropod,  non-
        mollusk  invertebrates). Diana Lipscomb observed that  "the  bio-
        sphere of systematists has more holes than the ozone layer."   An
        ATBI would require a major infusion of effort into these  fields.
        Where  will the people come from?  If training opportunities  and
        jobs  are  available, experience with other projects  shows  that
        people will emerge to meet the challenge (this was referred to as
        the  "Field  of Dreams" concept -- "If you build  it,  they  will

        In  order to be successful an ATBI must be  fully  collaborative.
        The  plan must be developed and managed by local constituents  in
        cooperation  with  scientists and the various  user  communities.
        This workshop focused on ascertaining the technical and scientif-
        ic issues of feasibility to carry out an ATBI. Further  workshops
        must  focus on user needs and local involvement,  including  such
        areas  as  biodiversity prospecting, ecotourism,  education,  and
        science-based industries.

        A  single  ATBI would cost $50-150 million.  After two  years  of
        planning  and  gearing up, the inventory would  take  about  five
        years.  It is hard for systematists, accustomed to  their  tradi-
        tional  budgets, to plan in numbers this large or time frames  so
        short! We tend to limit ourselves by this mindset, because clear-
        ly  this  is  cheap compared to current  expenditures  in  space,
        physics,  or military.  NASA has already spent over $8.5  billion
        just planning the space station!  An ATBI site might include some
        100,000  to  150,000 species, yielding a unit cost  of  something
        like $1000 per species.

        After an ATBI has been "completed" the site would continue to  be
        used  for  monitoring, research, education and  training.   Thus,
        although  the  major inventory activity would occur  during  five
        years,  an  ATBI would be an ongoing process.  Depending  on  the
        site,  it  may  even convert to a region  of  renewable  resource
        exploitation, such as ecotourism.

        The  products  of an ATBI will include: complete inventory  of  a
        site;  a step toward world taxonomic inventory; benchmarks and  a
        "known  universe"  for research in ecological  and  environmental
        change; standards, protocols, and methodologies for sampling  and
        monitoring;  a platform for ecological studies; training;  demon-
        stration  of  the significance and capabilities  of  systematics;
        detailed  knowledge of patterns in biodiversity of all taxa on  a
        landscape  scale; paper and electronic manuals of the biota  that
        will be useful far beyond the local site; public exposure for the
        importance  of systematics and conservation.  The  importance  of
        the last item cannot be over stated -- the scale of the ATBI will
        attract public and governmental attention in a way that almost no
        other systematics activity can!

        Involvement of the systematics community is vital to an ATBI.  In
        providing an example of the value of systematics and as an oppor-
        tunity  for  building international funding for  systematics  in-
        frastructure,  an ATBI could contribute greatly to the health  of
        systematics.   Both the proponents of ATBIs and  the  Systematics
        Agenda 2000 steering committee have arrived at the importance  of
        building world systematics infrastructure in order to  understand
        the  diversity of life on Earth.  Now we just need to find a  way
        to do that!

        The  ATBI  concept  can be perplexing if  viewed  in  traditional
        terms.  The group dynamic at the workshop was interesting in this
        regard.   For the first day or so, many of the participants  were
        greatly  concerned by the scale involved and doubted the  ability
        of  our community to rise to the challenge.  But as they saw  the
        power in the concept and the potential for international partner-
        ships  to develop the resources, the mood changed  to  remarkably
        positive.   Shortly  after  the mood shift,  the  group  heartily
        endorsed  the  importance of choosing a  site  with  "spectacular
        diversity."  Most systematists at the workshop, when asked  about
        their particular specialties, thought it was feasible.

        After  the workshop, I undertook my own non-scientific survey  of
        some members of the public and found that the concept of  knowing
        everything  about what lives in one place was exciting to  people
        who  might  not find most of biology of interest.   There  is  an
        intrinsic  appeal to the ATBI concept that provides a major  hook
        for funding.

        What happens next?  The workshop report should be distributed  in
        August  1993 and will lay out a plan in more detail.   First,  an
        initial site must be identified, starting with local and national
        commitment  to support an ATBI.  After national support has  been
        assured,  funding  must be solicited internationally.   Then  the
        scientific  and management team must be put together.   Then  de-
        tailed planning and action will continue.

        Some interesting remarks overhead during the workshop:

        An ATBI is "a tool for monitoring the health of life on Earth"

        "There  is  a need to restructure taxonomy - by  planning  versus
        historical accident - driven by societal needs"

        "ATBI is as much a political as scientific act, calling attention
        to the biodiversity problem"

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