What is...

BioNET-INTERNATIONAL, the Global Network for Taxonomy, is an inter-governmental initiative for taxonomic capacity building in developing countries. BioNET-INTERNATIONAL is dedicated
to supporting regional and national poverty eradication programmes via sustainable use of natural resources, agricultural development, and conservation of biodiversity
by enabling developing countries to achieve realistic self-reliance in the skills of identifying
and understanding the relationships of the different organisms which constitute our living environment.

It is comprised of sub-regional LOOPs (Locally Organised and Operated Partnerships) of developing country institutions, supported by a consortium of developed country institutions (BIOCON), and a Technical Secretariat (TecSec).


What is Taxonomy?

Taxonomy is that branch of science dedicated to discovering, identifying, naming and classifying organisms (species) and understanding their relationships. It provides an information system based on these relationships and is the foundation of all biological science. It allows us to distinguish individual species from amongst the millions with which we share this planet, and to understand their place, role and functions within living systems. Taxonomy is all about identification and recognition.

What's In a Name?

We use the name of a person to find out information about them in a directory. We use the name of a building to find it on map. Can you imagine trying to find a person or a building without knowing the correct name? Likewise in science we use unique names for individual species and attach relevnat information to these names including descriptions of their shape, appearance, habits, habitats, beneficial qualities or pest status.
The Name of an Organism is the Key to All that is Known About it
No Name = No Information

Having the correct identification name gives access to correct and relevant information, a wrong name leads to false and irrelevant information.

The Problem of Taxonomic Imbalance

Paradoxically, while developed countries have substantial taxonomic resources, it is in the biodiversity-rich countries of the developing world where sustainability is most crucial, that taxonomic knowledge is most needed and that taxonomic resources are particularly scarce. BioNET-INTERNATIONAL is a cost-effective and practical mechanism for redressing this imbalance through the creation of sub-regional networks in the developing world, designed to pool and share existing taxonomic resources and then build additional taxonomic capacity through North South partnerships for institutional strengthening and human resource development.

The Importance of Taxonomy
The Pink Hibiscus Mealybug (PHMB) (Maconellicoccus hirsutus) originates from southern Asia, where there is a suite of natural enemies that control it. The species was accidentally introduced to Grenada, without any natural enemies, on imported live plant material in 1993/4. The pest is polyphagous, with a preference for Hibiscus and related species. Saliva injected into the plant by PHMB while feeding is phytotoxic, causing new growth to be stunted and severely distorted. The leaves become coated with sugary honeydew excretions, and sooty moulds growing on the sugars; this blocks light and air from the leaves so they cannot phtosynthesise. Sensitive plant species shed the fouled leaves, and prolonged infestation seriously impairs productivity and can kill even large trees.

Unregulated infestations of PHMB in a country reduce production of fresh fruit and vegetables and restrict trade; reduce forestry production; and reduce natural forest cover, so promoting soil erosion and fouling of waterways. Unsightly infestations also have a negative impact on tourism. In Grenada the initial economic and environmental impact of PHMB was estimated to be about US$9.5 million, with an ongoing annual cost of about US$9.3 million while the pest remained unchecked by natural enemies.

PHMB has since spread to a succession of other Caribbean islands and countries, and is now present in: Angilla, Belize, British Virgin Islands (Virgin Gorda), Grenada, Guadeloupe, part of Guyana, North Mexico, Monserrat, Netherlands Antilles (Curaçao, St Eustacius, St Maarten), St Bartholew, St Kitts & Nevis, St Martin, part of St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad & Tobago, United States Territories (part of Puerto Rico, Culebra, Vieques) and U.S. Virgin Islands (St Croix, St John, St Thomas) and is likely to continue spreading in the region. It was even found in California in 1999.

Once the pest had been identified and its area of origin was known, natural enemies could be located and screened for its control. In 1995, a parasitoid wasp (Anagyrus kamali) was introduced to Grenada to control PHMB, followed by a ladybeetle (Cryptolaemus montrouzieri) in 1996 and another wasp, Gyranusoidea indica, in 1998. These natural enemies, especially the first two, have reduced infestations by up to 90%. They have since been introduced to other affected islands and countries in the region and provide effective control of the problem. The most recent outbreak, in Belize, was brought under control within three months of the natural enemy introductions. Although successful control has reduced the problem, it would have been better if the pest had been intercepted at Plant Quarantine inspection, and had never established in the region.

Courtesy of Dr Gillian W. Watson, CABI Bioscience