Blue Planet Prize awarded to Professor Daniel H Janzen (GDFCF) and INBio
Guanacaste Dry Forest Conservation Fund – GDFCF (2011)
Applied Informatics through the Rural Brain
Last Updated: April 28th, 2022
UPDATE: JRS awarded a follow-up grant to continue the work of the project. Please click here to view.
Costa Rica’s area de Conservación Guanacaste (ACG), a UNESCO World Heritage site, contains 2.5% of the world’s species. At 1,650 sq. km, it is the world’s largest tropical restoration project. Over two decades ago, rural people with little formal education began an intensive biodiversity inventory of this large, complex area.
The original ACG “para-taxonomists” used notebooks and pens. Now they use computers, digital cameras and the Internet. With a two-year grant from the JRS Biodiversity Foundation, a rethink and upgrade of the project’s digital capacity has been launched. The 35 para- taxonomists in ACG’s 12 biological stations, and four ACG taxonomic curators at Costa Rica’s National Biodiversity Institute (INBio) will receive new computers, cameras and software. Three annual on-site workshops will familiarize them with these new tools and information integration techniques. A Costa Rican specialist will facilitate the database and website, integrate field data, and link the information to the INBio data management system, GBIF, the Encyclopedia of Life and the Barcode of Life data systems. The broader goal is to demonstrate how technology can connect local biodiversity information collectors with the wider world – an essential part of conservation management for a large, complex tropical wild land.
Key Objectives and Activities
ACG has pioneered, in collaboration with Costa Rica’s INBio, the invention of the “parataxonomist” from rural personnel with minimal formal education. 29 ACG parataxonomists and 4 INBio curators (former parataxonomists) conducted an intense biodiversity inventory of ACG. The goal of this project is to transparently internetize the initial biodiversity information gathering process by the aforementioned 33 people as high-quality input into the information flow of processors and users such as INBio and GBIF. This project will:
1. Replace antiquated laptops, digital cameras, and applications for parataxonomists, biological stations and curators
2. Employ a FTE Costa Rican web site manager to integrate project biodiversity activity with the main ACG website with main links to INBio data management
3. Conduct 3 on-site workshops among the parataxonomists and INBio curators and visitors to the project
4. Salary four INBio curators as the link between ACG and INBio
Planned Outputs and Outcomes
- Three major workshops (January 2012, August 2012, early 2013)
- Data information to flow and quality to improve throughout the duration of the project
Results to Date
- Demonstrated that 34 Costa Rican adults, with at best grade‐school formal educations, can be drawn from the rural workforce and through on‐site on‐the‐job‐training retrofitted into a career of digital capture of tens of thousands of living wild species of biodiversity in wilderness circumstances.
- Found that an enthusiastic rural‐born, university‐trained, webmaster can create on his own, in close collaboration with the diverse staff of a Conservation Area, a web site for the reception and transmission of information from ALL ACG programs (150 biodiversity managers)
- Seen that 5 university‐level Costa Rican parataxonomist/curators can become fully fledged publishing taxonomists without going through a decade of advanced training for a Ph.D., in effect jumping up a social class.
- Demonstrated that 39 rural Costa Ricans, when provided with modern digital cameras, Mac laptops, reasonable applications, and an internet connection, will take care of, backup, and troubleshoot this communication machinery for two years.
This project has learned and confirmed that rural human resources with no higher formal education, can responsibly understand the mission of this biodiversity inventory and awareness project, and the critical nature of accurate execution of all parts of the mission. With this demonstrated initial capacity, this project plans to both lock it in through intense execution, and probe the next layer of complexity of direct feed, by them, of their results into a highly public portal, one that is vastly more user‐friendly than any extant, and one where the contributing parataxonomists can directly interact with users, through the web, just as we are accustomed to doing from our window in the Ivory Tower. This will be a very new experience for all concerned, complete with speed bumps and mud holes.
They have also learned of the functionality and feasibility of the above through the serendipitous appearance of Permian Global. They now pay the annual salaries and basic operating costs of the parataxonomists for ACG to keep right on being what it is, a global model for the permanent care of a large complex conserved wildland by local personnel. And they selected ACG in 2012 after surveying the world, exactly because of the parataxonomists’ traits being developed with JRS support at that time. They learned that what they do becomes global in real time through Permian, so that what they do makes a real difference, rather than just ending up in symposia, library, and web shelves. Permian is exporting this model to their projects of many millions of hectares throughout the tropics.