Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 19, Issue 4, pp 955–972 | Cite as

Biodiversity inventory and informatics in Southeast Asia

  • Campbell O. Webb
  • J. W. Ferry Slik
  • Teguh Triono
Original Paper


Rapidly changing land use in Southeast Asia threatens plant diversity, and reduces the time we have left to document it. Despite over 200 years of scientific plant exploration, many plant species have yet to be discovered. Moreover, we still have a very poor understanding of the distribution of known taxa in this biogeographically complex region. We review the current state of biodiversity exploration, using plants in Indonesia as an example. Traditional methods of collecting and describing species have provided a solid foundation for our understanding of plant biodiversity, but are insufficient for the pragmatic task of rapidly discovering and documenting today’s biodiversity before it is gone, because general collecting expeditions tend to be infrequent, and documentation of most new species must await taxonomic revisions many years in the future. Solutions to this exploration and documentation crisis (i) could use the abundant resource of enthusiastic, networked, national biology students, (ii) should employ biodiversity informatics tools to efficiently engage both specialists and parataxonomists, and (iii) might require adoption of new types of α-taxonomy, utilizing increasingly low-cost molecular methods and high resolution photographs. We describe emerging technologies that will facilitate this taxonomic development. We believe that a new golden age of biodiversity exploration may be dawning, just as biodiversity itself is most threatened, and are hopeful that increasing knowledge of biodiversity will be a positive force to slow its loss.


Biodiversity crisis Tropical forests Species discovery Citizen science Parataxonomists Digital photography Distributed databases Species identification DNA barcoding Semantic web 



Webb would like to thank M. Sanderson, T. Pennington, M. Donoghue, S. Renner, C. Cannon, J. Macklin, L. Lohman and C. Dick for stimulating discussions about these issues, the Government of Indonesia, (MenRisTek FRP, LIPI-PPB, PHKA, and Balai TN Gunung Palung) for assistance and permissions in Indonesia, the Arnold Arboretum and US National Science Foundation for funding, H. Yanto and E. Setiawan for field assistance, and G. Dean and R. Asmarayani for lab assistance. We are grateful to the Leiden herbarium for access to collections data. Finally, we thank the editors of this special issue for the invitation to participate and two anonymous reviewers for their comments.

Supplementary material

10531_2010_9817_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (121 kb)
PDF (120 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Campbell O. Webb
    • 1
    • 2
  • J. W. Ferry Slik
    • 3
  • Teguh Triono
    • 4
  1. 1.Arnold Arboretum of Harvard UniversityCambridgeUSA
  2. 2.Herbarium BogorienseBogorIndonesia
  3. 3.Key Laboratory in Tropical Forest EcologyXishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of SciencesMenglunChina
  4. 4.Herbarium Bogoriense, Research Center for Biology (LIPI)Cibinong Science CenterCibinongIndonesia

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