Who are the paraecologists?
The encyclopaedic knowledge of the natural world by Papua New Guineans is well known. Villagers relying mostly on forest resources often posses exceptionally detailed knowledge of forest animals and plants, only a portion of which has been recorded in writing. This traditional knowledge of grassroots Papua New Guineans can be developed into skills, which are crucial to biological research and nature conservation. Gifted and dedicated young people with often little formal education can thus, become paraecologists and lead locally based grassroots education and conservation efforts. They receive a general, introductory training (scientific method of inquiry, biology, ecology, computing), complemented by training for particular research and education activities as needed.
The expertise of paraecologists is well suited for conducting biodiversity surveys as they can collect biological specimens, preserve them and perform their preliminary sorting to species, as well as perform field and laboratory experiments and observations. Their work results in first rate material, which can be deposited in national collections and available for taxonomic studies, as well as in new, valuable ecological data on the specimens. Further, the paraecologists record the field-collected information to computer databases and document plant and animal specimens by taking both conventional and digital pictures, creating thus information sources on PNG plants and animals which are otherwise rarely available.
The number of paraecologist projects in the world is rather limited. Besides our Center in PNG, similar programs have been developed in Guyana and particularly Costa Rica (see Links).
Basset, Y., Novotny, V., Miller, S. E. & Pyle, R. (2000) Quantifying Biodiversity: Experience with paraecologists and Digital Photography in Papua NewGuinea and Guyana. BioScience 50, 899-908. [ pdf file 0.8 MB ]
Basset, Y., Novotny, V., Miller, S.E., Weiblen, G.D., Missa, O. & Stewart, A.J.A. (2004) Conservation and biological monitoring of tropical forests: the role of paraecologists. Journal of Applied Ecology 41, 163-174. [ pdf file 0.8 MB ]
Miller, S. E. (2001) Building Expertise at Research Locations: Relying upon Paraecologists. National Museum of Natural History (Washington) Research Highlights. http://www.mnh.si.edu/highlight/parataxonomy/
Expertise of paraecologists
The expertise of the paraecologists includes:
- basics of general biology and other science-related fields,
- insect and plant collecting and field study, using a wide range of techniques,
- insect and plant mounting and their preparation for taxonomic study,
- microscopy and digital macro photography,
- computing, particularly data input and management of databases, word editors, spreadsheets, internet www pages, and image editing software,
- principles of nature conservation and design of educational materials on environmental issues, and
- practical skills such as scuba diving, tree climbing, or off-road driving.
These skills are particularly relevant for documenting and the protection of the richness of the flora and fauna of PNG. The paraecologists are able to take part in a variety of biological research and conservation projects.
Test your knowledge! Here is the “Christmas test” designed to assess the knowledge of our parataxanomists. The time limit for completion is 8 hours. [ pdf file 9 MB ]
Paraecologists assisting research projects
Examples of past projects assisted by
University of South
Bohemia, Czech Republic: Field Course of Tropical Ecology for 11 undergraduate
and postgraduate students, 3 weeks in September 2006. Our Center hosted
a group of overseas biology students and assisted them in their varied field programme, including one-week stay in a lowland rainforest,
day trips to coral reefs and a trip to climb the PNG’s highest peak, Mt.
Wilhelm (4,517 m). [ details ]
University, USA: Biodiversity survey of rain forests in West New Britain (Papua
New Guinea); lead by Dr. Johannes Foufopoulos,
1999 (click here for comments)
University, Australia: Insect and plant diversity survey in lowland rain
forests around Madang, Papua New Guinea, lead by Prof.
Roger Kitching (AusAid-sponsored
survey of Lepidoptera in Kikori (Papua New
Tropical Research Institute, USA & Panama: Collecting material for survey
of Wolbachia parasites in
insects, 1999 (comments).
University, Australia: Colonization of a young volcanic island (Long Island,
Papua New Guinea); lead by Prof. Ian Thorton,
University, Australia: Species richness and host specificity of
rainforest fruitflies in Papua New Guinea, lead by Prof. R. Drew (AusAid-sponsored
project), 2000 – 2002 (details in our Research section)
Roger Williams Park
Zoo, Rhode Island, USA: Biodiversity survey of the Finnisterre Mts.
(Papua New Guinea), lead by Dr. L. Dabek, 2001 – 2002. [ details ]
Conservation Alliance, USA: Biodiversity survey of the Bintuni Bay (New
Guinea – Indonesia), 2002
SUNY Stonybrook, USA: Decomposition in Tropical Forests, lead by J. Powers (the site in Madang area, Papua New
Guinea, managed by our Center is one of a global
network of sites), 2002.