Tropical ecosystems support a diversity of species and ecological processes that are unparalleled anywhere else on Earth. Despite their tremendous social and scientific importance, tropical ecosystems are rapidly disappearing. To help tropical ecosystems and the human communities dependent upon them better face the challenges of the 21st century, tropical biologists must provide critical knowledge in three areas: (1) the structure and functioning of tropical ecosystems; (2) the nature and magnitude of anthropogenic effects on tropical ecosystems; and (3) the socio-economic drivers of these anthropogenic effects. To develop effective strategies for conservation, restoration, and sustainable management of tropical ecosystems, scientific perspectives must be integrated with social necessities. Three principles for guiding tropical biological research are suggested: (1) broadening the set of concerns; (2) integration of biological knowledge with the social sciences and traditional knowledge; and (3) linking science to policy and action. Four broad recommendations are proposed for immediate action in tropical biology and conservation that are fundamental to all biological and social disciplines in the tropics: (1) assemble and disseminate information on life's diversity in the tropics; (2) enhance tropical field stations and build a worldwide network to link them with tropical field biologists at their field sites; (3) bring the field of tropical biology to the tropics by strengthening institutions in tropical countries through novel partnerships between tropical and temperate zone institutions and scientists; and (4) create concrete mechanisms to increase interactions between tropical biologists, social scientists, and policy makers.
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Vol. 36 • No. 4