WHAT IS A RAPID INVENTORY?

Field Museum rapid inventories are cooperative, rigorous surveys of the biological and cultural assets of a priority landscape for conservation.

Our inventories focus on vast landscapes with high potential for conservation: often remote, megadiverse, and lacking formal protection. Requests for inventories have come from local communities, research institutes, NGOs, and regional and/or national governments. We respond to these opportunities by forming inclusive partnerships, collecting new field data to boost and complement existing knowledge, and collectively generating recommendations to mobilize action for conservation and the wellbeing of local people.

Broad collaboration forms the essence of our inventories. We work with stakeholders at all levels—from host-country and international scientists, to local villagers, to government agencies and civil society—to build on already-existing efforts, elevate local and regional expertise, and gather crucial biological and social information. Constructing the inventory with partners from the start is crucial, as it cements common goals, clarifies roles, and ensures that the inventory results translate directly into action.

Javier Maldonado en Campamento Peñas Rojas

Photo by Jorge García Melo

Together with our partners we follow a series of steps:

  1. Map major habitats and outstanding ecological features, local communities and governance structures, current and historical conservation and management efforts, and key decision-making entities.

  2. Build institutional agreements, secure proper permits, and consult local communities to determine how an inventory can best serve the local vision for stewarding the landscape. Using this early engagement and our maps of the area, we identify the sites to be visited.

  3. Conduct fieldwork.

  4. Synthesize data and present information to key decision makers in pursuit of the most important outcomes for conservation and quality of life.

Community members working on territory map
Aerial photo botanic team

Photo by Álvaro del Campo

During the biological portion of the fieldwork, scientists and long-term residents survey plants, fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals — organisms that indicate habitat type and condition and that can be surveyed quickly and accurately. Our inventories do not attempt to produce an exhaustive list of species or higher taxa. Instead, these surveys identify the species, natural resources, and landscape features with high conservation value (at global, national, or local scales), assess the conservation status of those assets, and document threats.

During the social portion of the fieldwork, a diverse group of social scientists, government officials, representatives from non-governmental organizations, and local leaders collaborates with local communities to identify patterns of social and political organization, natural resource use, and relationships between local people and outside entities. The teams use participant observation, semi-structured interviews, focus groups, participatory mapping, and other action research methods to quickly identify the assets of local communities that can serve as points of engagement for long-term participation in conservation, as well as the threats that local people and natural resources face.

social scientists and local leaders mapping a river

Photo by Diana Carolina Alvira

Local woman and girls looking at a book of findings on their region

Photo by Ana Alicia Lemos

As soon as fieldwork is complete, we present preliminary findings to local people and in-country decision-makers. We then translate everything we’ve learned into practical recommendations for achieving long-term conservation. These often include a recommendation to establish a new park or reserve co-managed by local peoples, in addition to steps for maximizing local autonomy and quality of life, and for mitigating threats.

 

In the months and years following the inventory, we work with in-country partners to share the team’s recommendations, reports, and other products with local and international decision-makers, who set priorities and take conservation action. 

Our inventories collect the necessary information fast, at a pace effective for producing results on the ground. Since 1999, our rapid inventories have generated new understanding about some of the most culturally and biologically diverse places on the planet, and provided technical support for governments in Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia to establish 17 new conservation areas in the Andean foothills and Amazonian lowlands.

These inventories have increased recognition of the role of local residents as fundamental partners in managing landscapes, improved land use planning at multiple scales, and strengthened environmental governance and coordination among local and regional stakeholders.

Rapid Inventories books stack