Centre for Applied Biodiversity Science

below RAP scientists, Dr. Marcos Callisto (Brazil) and Dr. Leeanne Alonso (US) sample zooplankton in the Brazilian Pantanal, the world's largest wetland. (SEPTEMBER 1998)

The Center for Applied Biodiversity Science (CABS) (http://www.cabs.conservation.org) is an institute designed to acquire knowledge most relevant to the assessment of endangered ecosystems and the unique species they contain, and to advise the conservation community on priorities this knowledge implies. Its mission also includes developing methods by which the goals of conservation can be more effectively met. CABS has an in-house function: to provide day-to-day scientific guidance for the programs of it parental organization, Conservation International (http://www.conservation.org ), which is unusually practical and field-based in its orientation. It also aims to serve the broader global conservation community as an easily accessible research center and clearing house of information.

CABS researchers monitor and collate the now enormous and growing mass of information on biodiversity built by other scientists around the world. In addition, it draws on the original information provided by Conservation International's network of field stations, and still further on the databases from its Rapid Assessment Programs (RAPs). RAPs are surveys of vertebrates, plants, and other taxonomically well-known groups in habitats suspected of harboring significant numbers of unique species. When this initial sweep of sampling suggests that the locality in addition constitutes such a “hotspot” of biotic endangerment, further studies and conservation activity can be quickly initiated. One of the key roles of CABS is thus to keep an eye on the natural world in order to provide an early warning system. In this it is true to the principle that conservation practice, like medicine, is most effective when correct diagnoses are made early.

The capacity of CABS and other organizations to master such a planet-wide set of problems is substantially enhanced by the ongoing revolution in information technology. It will soon be possible for researchers in the field, while conducting rapid assessment programs in even the most remote locations to verify taxonomic identifications by downloading illustrated monographs of plants, birds, and other organisms. When monographs are not available, the field biologist can acquire digitized images of type specimens kept in museums scattered around the world. Experts elsewhere can be consulted instantly by the same means, information can be exchanged, and advice can be sought. With the global positioning system the location of samples can be pinpointed to within a few tens of meters. And with key electronic journals online, other information on the ecology, geography, and economics of the region can be sifted and included, without delay. Much of the basic research for conservation practice will thus be speeded up, very likely by one or two orders of magnitude, as a great deal of the primary research, analysis, and reporting are accomplished right at camp sites.

By necessity, the role of CABS also extends beyond the natural sciences into the social sciences. Conservation is not achieved by the creation of reserves alone. It requires the support of local people whose lives are improved by the security of the natural environment around them, and of political leaders who come to view conservation as a benefit to their constituencies and themselves. In short, conservation science must include research in the relevant aspects of economics and the other social sciences, fitted hand in glove to traditional biodiversity research.