Field Work for Implementing Surveys

Many of the proposed long-term biodiversity monitoring projects foundered due to lack of financial resources to employ the large number of skilled personnel required for the technical monitoring, as well as the high costs to install some of the proposed systems. For example, Smithsonian Institution has a global network of forest research plots and scientists studying tropical and temperate forest. Called CTFS (Center for Tropical Forest Science), it has over fifty forest research plots across the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Europe, where survival and growth of some 4.5 million trees from 8,500 species are monitored. However, installing and inventorizing the vascular plants each 50 ha plot cost over $300,000, with maintenance costs on-going. Few organizations have the ability to install and maintain large networks of plots at prices like this.

Key stakeholders in the long term monitoring of PPBio PELD sites are include organizations responsible for reserves and wildlife (e.g. National Parks and other protected areas) and land use planning (e.g. municipalities and federal environmental agencies), plus universities needing sites to train students, private land owners with economic or conservation goals, and many other actors involved in land use. Interested parties must provide the infrastructure to maintain the site. The costs are very moderate. Very often, grids can be installed by engineering students or students conducting surveys. Even if a contractor is hired to install the grid, the cost is less than $ 50,000 in Brazil, and it provides the infrastructure to make surveys of a wide variety of floral and faunal groups on a scale that is relevant to management. The involvement of these actors is important. They not only protect the grid, they also ensure that researchers conduct research in relevant scale for management using consistent survey methodologies.


The first trails were in Amazonia PELD were funded by the Ministry of Science and Technology (MCT), either directly or via CNPq (National Council for Scientific and Technological Development). Almost all RAP surveys using the methodology PPBio were funded by special interest groups. RAP modules can be installed at a fraction of the cost of the total grid, usually less than $ 1,000 per module.

Academics from universities and research professionals need to be involved in the surveys to ensure scientific rigor and maintain data quality. However, such professionals are few and usually overloaded. Despite their undoubted competence, and the benefits of reproducibility, it is simply impractical to try to ask such individuals to conduct all the desired biodiversity surveys. Therefore, much of the survey work is done by university students.


University students, especially those working towards masters dissertations or doctoral theses, are among the most productive scientists. More importantly, they are still young and have the desire to work in remote areas under difficult conditions, and typically receive grants or other funding, and such circumstances are generally exempt from many of the costly legal liabilities associated with labor laws. Students using the PPBio system have, besides the infrastructure access to a database with most of the environmental data (s)he will need to answer interesting scientific questions about a particular taxon, and access to data from other taxa collected by other researchers (read More on Integrated Surveys). A student can participate in integrated studies, while focussing on the biology of their chosen group, knowing that data will be available on the grid. Due to the availability of high quality environmental data and integrated studies, what was only a glorified lists of species become data that can be published in a high quality scientific journals. In this context, it is interesting to note that the first grid PPBio in the Pantanal was funded by the Ministry of Education (MEC/CAPES - Coordination of Improvement of Higher Education Personnel) with aid given precisely to increase the publications productivity of professors and students in a local Federal University.


The interaction between students and managers is one of the most important aspects of PPBio sites, since it is so important to train the next generation of professionals in land use. The Ducke Reserve is almost 3 times the size of the standard PPBio grid. Since it was installed in 2000 this grid has been researched for above-ground tree biomass (twice), stream fish (twice), lake/pond fish, lizards, frogs, tadpoles, woody plants, herbaceous vegetation and many entomological groups. All surveys were conducted by students as part of their theses and dissertations, and great majority have had their results been published or accepted for publication in high level scientific journals.

Managers often ask about the frequency with which the surveys should be conducted. In some cases it may be necessary to adjust survey frequency to accommodate the biology of a particular group. However, for most groups, researchers are evaluating the probability and forms of change over time. Some aspects - such as soil, may change very slowly, and there will be scientific (and management) interest only with surveys with made at decade-long intervals. . In contrast, groups such as butterflies can respond to an annual variation in climate, while other groups such as ants or primates, may show intermediate responses. There is no reason why survey data should not be shared. Recording changes benefits both scientific and management. Researchers (and their students) are always looking for publishable results. Databased information regarding biological and and environmental variables also leads to the formulating and testing hypotheses about connections and subtle ecological interactions. The PELD monitoring structure becomes a highly lucrative scientific activity, even when there is no immediate financial return. Bioprospecting and other economic activities generate their own funding.

There is enough funding available to work with biodiversity in remote and interesting areas like the Amazon. However, the ability to achieve all that could be done is hampered by the lack of skilled manpower. Too often, regional areas have university scientists, but many of them have become involved in a vicious circle of low productivity, making them uncompetitive for obtaining grants, which means that they cannot improve their productivity. Funding agencies are understandably hesitant to provide funding for studies with experimental designs of low quality, and for researchers that are unproductive and with few scientific contacts. The goal PPBio, especially with PELD sites, is to break this self-perpetuating cycle of underproductivity. The PELD sites bring a robust experimental design in which even basic inventories can be used to answer important questions about biodiversity and ecosystem processes. The PPBio Program provides training for local students and researchers and, more importantly, provides a conduit for scientific exchanges between regional consortia and institutions established in other regions. Such flow is central to maintaining the quality of research. Therefore, PPBio provides a general framework for exchange between local, national and international researchers which can work to the benefit of all.