Biological diversity is the keystone of human survival. Healthy biodiversity is critical for our future existence and wellbeing. Since the signing of the Convention on Biological Diversity on June, 1992 by world leaders at the United Nations ‘World Summit' (the Conference on Environment and Development) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the conservation of biological diversity has become a key global issue. During a speech on biodiversity entitled ‘The Living World: Key to Sustainability' at the Academia Sinica, Taipei on May 28, 2000, former Clinton administration presidential advisor on science and technology Dr. Peter H. Raven said that, over the past 50 years, with the addition of about 3.5 billion people, the human population has more than doubled to reach over 6 billion, causing the loss of a quarter of total available topsoil, the loss of one-fifth of agricultural land, and the destruction of one-third of forests. Worst of all, humans have driven the rate of biological extinction, the permanent loss of species, up several times beyond its historical levels so that we are losing 1,000 species each year, or 500 to 1,000 times more than were lost previously, and are threatened with the loss or near extinction of one-third of all species by the year 2050. Some ecologists are even saying that our overuse of the planet's resources is endangering all life on earth, leading us to the brink of the sixth mass extinction. These frightening predictions should serve to awaken us to the importance of global biological diversity and to the need to conserve and utilize resources sustainably.
The island of Taiwan straddles the Tropic of Cancer, giving it a warm tropical-subtropical climate with abundant rainfall. Covering a wide range of elevations from high forest-covered mountains to grassy lowlands, Taiwan features an abundance of flora and fauna diversity. The island has over 4,200 known named species of vascular plants, over 5,740 species of fungi, and over 19,000 species of wild animals. The island's early geographic isolation led to its extremely high level of endemism. In the past 50 years, however, a population explosion, rapid economic development, and inappropriate use of natural resources have combined to seriously damage the ecosystems and cause the extinction or near-extinction of many species. Realizing that the rapid destruction of Taiwan's environment was a major problem, former Taiwan provincial governor Mr. Chiu Chuang-Huan called for the establishment of a Taiwan Endemic Species Research Institute, whose intent was to conserve Taiwan's existing endemic species and genetic divesity and sustain the long-term balance of its ecosystems.This call was issued at the 909th meeting of provincial government heads of department on January 8, 1990. To implement this decision, the Department of Agriculture and Forestry drafted the master plan for the establishment of the Taiwan Endemic Species Research Institute, which was amended and passed by the Taiwan Provincial Government on May 14, 1990. The plan was then presented to and approved by the Executive Yuan and the Taiwan Endemic Species Research Institute (TESRI) was formally established on July 1, 1992. With the streamlining of the Taiwan Provincial Government, TESRI came under the jurisdiction of the Council of Agriculture on July 1, 1999 and was renamed as the Endemic Species Research Institute (ESRI). Since its establishment, the Institute has made significant progress both in terms of infrastructure and research achievements under the leadership of successive directors. In particular, ESRI has accumulated a vast wealth of experience and expertise in the fields of species survey, endemic/rare species biology and ecology research, the classification and identification of wild species, and the promotion of ecological education.
The task of conserving biodiversity is fraught with challenges and requires much time. In the future, ESRI will follow international trends to become a biodiversity conservation research institute, and to actively play its role as a government agency to promote biodiversity conservation, investigation, research and education. All employees of the Institute care deeply for the land they live on. They have made it their life's vocation to protect Taiwan's biodiversity and to conserve the integrity of its natural environment. With the support and guidance of government, experts and academics at home and abroad, ESRI aims to become the cornerstone of local biodiversity conservation efforts, and to ensure the genetic, species and ecological diversity of Taiwan for the sustainable use of future generations.