Investigadores del Área de Conservación Guanacaste (iACG)
iACG is a volunteer organization that will promote research in the Área de Conservación Guanacaste(ACG) by creating internet-based tools and processes for the exchange of information among researchers and provide an interface for communication between researchers and the larger ACG community of administrators and users.
The mission of the ACG is to conserve both the biodiversity and the cultural heritage contained within its borders, and also to be a pilot project for strategies that integrate wildland conservation efforts with the interests of the societies in which those wildlands are embedded. Broadly speaking, this is conservation through non-damaging biodiversity development, and scientific research is an integral part of this effort. The products of research provide much of the raw information on the biodiversity of the ACG that is subsequently used in conservation decisions and biodiversity development. The process of research builds capacity among the biodiversity managers tasked with carrying out the mission of the ACG and among the neighboring resident populace whose understanding and valuing of wild biodiversity is necessary for achieving integration between the ACG and its resident, national, and international society.
Currently and historically there have been a large number of researchers working independently in the ACG, but (with notable exceptions) the investments, efforts, and outputs of those researchers have been coordinated with one another and with the interests of the ACG in a loosely ad hoc fashion. As a result, the huge body of information generated is not collated or organized. This information takes many forms, including the data that is summarized and presented in scientific publications, sequences published in GenBank, specimens in museum drawers, and numerous secondary products such as the maps, detailed descriptions of environmental variables, and accumulated natural history information that are rarely published and reside in individual investigators’ heads, hard drives, filing cabinets, and web sites. Because of the highly dispersed nature of this material, scientific effort may be duplicated, valuable research time is spent chasing down obscure materials, and opportunities for collaboration between researchers are often missed and ACG managers and researchers simply do not know of the existence of highly useful information.
Another general and unfortunate situation that we perceive is that the ACG staff is largely disconnected from the amorphous, highly dispersed, and transient community of researchers, who often possess information that would be useful to the ACG’s programs. The other side of this disconnect is that researchers do not have access to the collective knowledge base that has been accumulated by the ACG staff and is currently dispersed among many individuals and programs. Furthermore, we believe that both the ACG and the community of researchers would benefit if researchers better understood both the broader ACG mission and the organizational, financial, and practical challenges facing the ACG as it tries to achieve its goals.
As a result, there are high start-up costs for would-be ACG researchers, and despite its great biological, logistic, and administrative potential, the ACG is relatively underexploited as a destination for scientific research. We attribute this in part to a lack of a coordinated, communicating group of researchers (compared to, for example, the situation at the OTS La Selva Biological Station or STRI at Barro Colorado Island, Panama). This is not to say that research efforts in the ACG can or should be modeled on BCI or La Selva, which are run by well-funded parent organizations dedicated to the goal of maximizing largely academic teaching and research output. The ACG is public land and, as is implicit in its mission statement, is conceived as a multi-use entity fully integrated with Costa Rican society. However, we believe there is an under-explored middle ground between tightly controlled, high overhead, top-down management and coordination of research efforts and the current chaotic situation.
We propose that an internet-based organization that facilitates exchange of information and the pooling of accumulated knowledge among researchers and the ACG is one way to explore this middle ground and to begin to address the issues raised above. We envision iACG as a consortium of investigators loosely organized around a central web-resource whose first priority is to distill and disseminate their product to one another, the greater ACG, its affiliates, and beyond. We hope that this will be a productive first step in increasing the research output of the ACG and making that output useful to the larger ACG community. We conceive of this web-resource as having two main components: communications tools which allow investigators to communicate effectively and directly with one another and the larger ACG community, and storage and organizational tools which will make available commonly useful data, including metadata about what research has been and is currently being conducted in the ACG. We believe these goals can be best achieved in a decentralized structure that is equally accessible to all users. It is the nature of science that no administrator, however competent or knowledgeable, will ever be able to know many of the pieces of information that may be pertinent to a research program; the best solution is to make the information as accessible as possible to the community of investigators and the ACG community as a whole. It is also an experiment: can a web-based community be created out of a group of investigators with diverse goals and interests, and durations, and if so, what will that community produce?
Finally, suggesting ways in which the research environment could be improved and formulating a mission which broadly overlaps that of the ACG’s Programa de Investigación is in no way meant to imply criticism of that program. The achievements of Investigación in facilitating research, generating information, and developing the research potential of the ACG have been nothing short of heroic. Due to its small size and legally mandated restricted reach, the ACG research program does not currently have the luxury of embarking on major new investments in intellectual infrastructure that will mostly benefit outside investigators at the expense of the ACG’s endogenous research projects and infrastructure. It is thus up to those who will be the primary beneficiaries of this infrastructure to make the effort to develop it. We also hope that by providing a central web resource for information for investigators and an interface for interacting with other park programs, we can eventually alleviate some of the logistical burden of managing investigator activities and serving as a conduit between researchers and the ACG that currently falls to the staff of the research program.
In conclusion, iACG is a first step towards harnessing researcher energy to work side by side with the research program, BioGuanacaste, the Guanacaste Dry Forest Conservation Fund, the larger ACG community, and other groups and organizations to promote and strengthen the ACG as a destination for scientific research.
Immediate Goals 2005-2007:
- Propose the iACG concept and obtain approval and feedback from ACG administrators and senior researchers in the form of written statements, informal discussion, and a planned meeting in summer 2005.
- Generate a mailing list of current ACG researchers (and therefore potential iACG members) including senior researchers, post-docs, graduate students, and ACG staff.
- Develop a list of statutes outlining the organizational structure of iACG
- Create a web-based infrastructure (http://www.investigadoresacg.org) to consolidate and centralize information for ACG investigators to:
- Promote continuity and preventing duplication of research effort.
- Facilitate the ACG administrators in dealing with researchers by, for example, providing online information for prospective ACG researchers.
- Facilitate exchange of information among researchers (by creating a listserve and/or news blog) and between the ACG and the group of researchers as a whole.
- Archive and link data and metadata of past and ongoing projects.
- Promote synergy among researchers in order to elucidate connections between projects, distill primary research findings, and disseminate these findings to the larger ACG community and beyond.
- Provide links to other organizations, databases, web sites, and individual homepages of interest to those working in the ACG.
- Find external funding and human resources for the creation of a searchable, online bibliography of primary and secondary literature that is directly or indirectly related to the ecology, natural history, conservation, and sociology of the ACG.
- Assess interest in and find external funding and human resources for organization of an initial combined iACG organizational meeting/symposium and web-publication of its proceedings.
- Generate and maintain a web-searchable data/metadata database of past and ongoing ACG research efforts and their output.
- Foster and maintain a strong sense of community, collaboration, and information sharing among ACG researchers and between researchers and ACG program staff.
Jeffrey A. Klemens, Philadelphia, PA
Salvatore J. Agosta,Department of Biology, Wilkes University
Jennifer S. Powers Departments of Ecology, Evolution & Behavior and Plant Biology, University of Minnesota
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