Opportunities and responsibilities for research in tropical plant biology are strongly affected by the threatened status of tropical ecosystems, particularly tropical moist forests. Research priorities are thus influenced by the need to complete research before entire ecosystems are destroyed and component species are rendered extinct. Research priorities are also influenced by the need for information necessary to develop strategies protecting remaining ecosystems or restoring damaged ones.
High-quality research in tropical plant biology is also likely to uncover phenomena that may alter specific research priorities. There is a critical need to complete alpha taxonomic research, including both regional floras and monographs. Use of molecular techniques and the application of cladistics provide unprecedented tools for establishing phylogenetic lineages within these tropical groups. The combination of systematic and ecological research will also provide new insights about the processes of selection that have influenced these patterns of diversity.
A growing understanding of the interactions between animals and plants in tropical ecosystems provides increasing opportunities for understanding the organization of food webs in tropical ecosystems, the complexity of tropical ecosystems, and the ecological and evolutionary processes that maintain biotic diversity in the tropics.
An important challenge for research in tropical ecosystems will be to understand the functional ecology of ecologically and economically important taxa, with particular attention to the integration of levels of organization and their contribution to plant survival.
The functional ecology of individual species will contribute increasingly to an understanding of how tropical forests respond to global climate change.
The greatest cultural and scientific importance of this research is its bearing on the continued existence of tropical ecosystems, the greatest reservoir of biotic diversity on our planet.
Research in tropical plant biology would fit well with the research thrusts outlined by the National Science Foundation. At present the funding from all sources to support this research is inadequate.
There is a small pool of bright and motivated students with a love for plants and the natural ecosystems in which they grow. Students will continue to be attracted to this discipline by a love for plant life and a fascination about their evolution and function. The tropics can continue to stimulate generations of students to carry on these studies.