Citizen science has been gaining momentum in the United States and Europe, where citizens are literate and often interested in science. However, in developing countries, which have a dire need for environmental data, such programs are slow to emerge, despite the large and untapped human resources in close proximity to areas of high biodiversity and poorly known floras and faunas. Thus, we propose that the parataxonomist and paraecologist approach, which originates from citizen-based science, is well suited to rural areas in developing countries. Being a paraecologist or a parataxonomist is a vocation and entails full-time employment underpinned by extensive training, whereas citizen science involves the temporary engagement of volunteers. Both approaches have their merits depending on the context and objectives of the research. We examined 4 ongoing paraecologist or parataxonomist programs in Costa Rica, India, Papua New Guinea, and southern Africa and compared their origins, long-term objectives, implementation strategies, activities, key challenges, achievements, and implications for resident communities. The programs supported ongoing research on biodiversity assessment, monitoring, and management, and participants engaged in non-academic capacity development in these fields. The programs in Southern Africa related to specific projects, whereas the programs in Costa Rica, India, and Papua New Guinea were designed for the long term, provided sufficient funding was available. The main focus of the paraecologists' and parataxonomists' activities ranged from collection and processing of specimens (Costa Rica and Papua New Guinea) or of socioeconomic and natural science data (India and Southern Africa) to communication between scientists and residents (India and Southern Africa). As members of both the local land user and research communities, paraecologists and parataxonomists can greatly improve the flow of biodiversity information to all users, from local stakeholders to international academia.
Keywords: biodiversity assessment; conservación de suelo virgen; cooperación para el desarrollo; desarrollo de capacidad no-académica; development cooperation; evaluación de la biodiversidad; investigación participativa; manejo de recursos naturales; natural resource management; non-academic capacity development; participatory research; wildland conservation.
© 2016 The Authors. Conservation Biology published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. on behalf of Society for Conservation Biology.