Molecular genetics research can benefit efforts to conserve the genetic diversity of tropical plant species. Clear and efficient procedures are needed to access DNA samples, while respecting tropical countries’ and local communities’ rights on genetic resource usage. The Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-Sharing, which took effect in 2014, provides an opportunity to establish such procedures. However, scientists are concerned that its emphasis on monetary gains restricts research focused on scientific, societal, and environmental benefits. Despite much political and scientific debate, few concrete cases have demonstrated the practical functioning of the Nagoya Protocol. This paper describes the first application of the Protocol in Guatemala, where it was used to grant permission to a non-commercial study on gene flow in mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla King) populations in the Maya Biosphere Reserve of Petén. On the basis of this study, we discuss five strategies to enhance the application of molecular genetics to conservation biology under the Nagoya Protocol: (1) generate short and standardized procedures; (2) enable science communication; (3) cultivate a common understanding between users, providers, and potential beneficiaries; (4) involve local research and practitioner organizations; and (5) integrate participatory research. Positive societal views on the application of molecular genetics to conservation biology generate further support for work in this discipline and promote adoption of research results for the conservation of genetic diversity of tropical plant species.
- Bridging molecular genetics and participatory research: how access and benefit-sharing stimulate interdisciplinary research for tropical biology and conservation