The state of knowledge of biological diversity, described in the previous chapter, suggests that the most basic research requirement is to gain a more complete sense of "what's out there." The committee that produced the 1980 National Academy of Sciences report Research Priorities in Tropical Biology recognized this fundamental need and called for a "greatly accelerated ... international effort in completing an inventory of tropical organisms" (NAS, 1980). Although these efforts have accelerated to a degree, the task has become far more urgent, complex, and challenging in the interim.
Effective conservation of biological diversity requires more than just basic knowledge of its components. We need to know as well the distribution of biological diversity and those areas where it is most concentrated. We need to know the potential benefits that organisms can offer to humanity and, at least in a general way, how they and the biotic communities they form are faring. We need to understand better the ecological dynamics of the systems in which organisms exist, the temporal and spatial patterns that govern their fate, and the best means to conserve both organisms and habitats over the long run. We need to develop methods to use biological resources without depleting them or undermining the human communities with which they coexist. Finally, we need to learn better how to restore those lands and waters that have been degraded by unwise development.
The challenge of biodiversity research entails not only the gathering of information but its management, application, and communication. Likewise, the quality of research depends upon the people and institutions who perform it. These considerations are especially important in the developing nations of the world, and are addressed as part of this research agenda. The specific recommendations offered flow from the general conviction that the comprehension and conservation of biodiversity in developing nations represent a challenge of such magnitude that all links in the chain of research and application must be strengthened to ensure success.
These recommendations have been formulated with the understanding that many development agencies have central (global or worldwide) interests as well as country-specific programs. Research and related activities appropriate for both have been included. In general, to have the greatest immediate as well as long-term impact, centrally funded research should be conducted in concert with in-country activities, even when problems are addressed on a global scale. For example, research on salt-tolerant plants that can restore saline soil to agricultural productivity should be undertaken in a location where this is a problem, even if the work is centrally funded and conducted in collaboration with U.S. investigators. Furthermore, centrally funded research is likely to be more basic in nature, and linking it to in-country projects