The lack of taxonomists is very much a global issue, hence the establishment of the Global Taxonomy Initiative (GTI) and the BioNET International and its LOOPs. In ASEAN countries, the shortage of in-country taxonomic expertise to identify plant pests and diseases is often compounded by difficulties in access to taxonomic expertise abroad. Thus, ASEANET and CABI SEA, working together, established the ASEAN Regional Diagnostic Network (ARDN) to offer a one-stop centre that provides plant health and safety services, ranging from offering of diagnostic tools to taxonomic expertise support. Making full use of advancements in technology and the Internet, ARDN brings taxonomic expertise in more advanced nations to developing countries to help them expedite the identification of new pests and diseases, to support pest management decision-making as well as the development of reliable plant health status information for market access.
A Clearinghouse has been set up at CABI SEA to facilitate anonymous testing of samples from third party countries, providing support to regional countries where national capacity is not present or inadequate. To facilitate this, remote microscopy, which is a web-based diagnostic tool setup that uses existing network and internet infrastructure, has been introduced into the Network. The system works by linking microscopes to a web server. During live sessions, prepared samples and specimens would be placed under the appropriate microscope, allowing experts from remote locations to view the live feed and examine the specimens concurrently with local scientists without the need to be physically present at the site.
While remote microscopy is a valuable tool to aid in identification and diagnosis, the Network’s broader aim is to create a community of plant health stakeholders to share information and exchange knowledge. To achieve this and to provide a platform for experts to communicate with one another, an ARDN website (http://www.ardn.info) was set up. The website offers a forum to host discussions between stakeholders, a taxonomic skill & expertise register listing technical expertise and resources, agricultural trade and market related information, links to plant-health related sites, live remote microscopy sessions and clearinghouse protocols, submission form and guidelines. This initiative is currently running in pilot phase with funding from IDRC.