Instituto de Investigación de Recursos Biológicos Alexander von Humboldt

Plant Conservation in Colombia

Project Details

Grant Amount: $182,950
Contact: Camila Pizano
Contact Email: cpizano 'atsign'
Funding Dates: 6/15/12 - 6/14/15


Created in 1993, the Humboldt Institute is a civil nonprofit corporation in Colombia linked to the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development. The Institute is responsible for promoting, coordinating, and carrying out scientific research on biodiversity in Colombia. The Institute has been mandated to coordinate the National Biodiversity Information System (SiB), which is a country-wide alliance of more than 100 institutions, established to facilitate and promote free and open access to biodiversity data, particularly to support research, policy, and decision making activities related to the conservation and sustainable use of Colombian biodiversity.

In Colombia, dry forest habitat is restricted to less than 3% of its original extent, making it the most endangered terrestrial ecosystem in the country. Data about dry forest community composition, structure, and function are essential to develop and implement effective conservation strategies for this ecosystem. A great deal of research and monitoring activities have been carried out on dry forest over the last years. However, the resulting data are scattered, difficult to integrate and use. This project will address the quality and accessibility of dry forest plant data in Colombian herbaria.

Key Objectives and Activities

The Humboldt Institute will partner with five Colombian herbaria to assemble, clean, enhance, and publish plant biodiversity data collected in dry forest habitats. In doing so, they will prioritize three facets of data quality and sharing that current limit the accessibility of plant information: taxonomic consistency, digitization of specimen records, and integration of functional trait data sets. The project outlines four objectives:

Objective 1: Develop a virtual reference collection of plant specimens from dry forests of Colombia from five herbaria. Specimens will be imaged and classified based on a standardized taxonomy.

Objective 2: Digitize dry forest-related plant data held at the five herbaria, including functional trait datasets, integrate the disparate collections, and publish them online via GBIF, SiB Colombia, and TRY.

Objective 3: Build institutional capacity in the country to efficiently manage and use primary biodiversity data.

Objective 4: Facilitate discovery and access to biodiversity data for key stakeholders, researchers, policy and decision makers.

Planned Outputs

  • Establish imaging facilities at four herbaria
  • Publish 10,000 high-quality images and data records online
  • Produce a verified checklist of dry forest plant species
  • Publish all plant data online, including functional traits, with GBIF, SIB Colombia, and TRY
  • Create 100 fact sheets on key tropical dry forest species
  • Hold workshops to support digitization and publication activities

Planned Outcomes

Results from this project will contribute to the implementation of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation in Colombia. An updated checklist of dry forest polant species, their distributions, and conservation status will facilitate improved conservation planning. In addition, making the virtual reference collection of dry forest plants widely available will raise the visibility of this critically threatened ecosystem. By training and equipping herbaria to conduct digitization independently, this project will expand the data management capacities of key biodiversity institutions in Colombia.

Primary Software Platforms

The data management will take place in Specify and Herbar, and will also rely on the GBIF spreadsheet processor templates

Results to Date

By the close of the grant, the project had met or exceeded all major milestones:

  • Release of taxonomic checklist of 1,174 Colombian tropical dry forest plant species through SiB Colombia and GBIF, and list of 2,585 species in El bosque seco tropical en Colombia
  • Publication of more than 13,000 tropical dry forest plant records through SiB Colombia (7,260 georeferenced); and more than 11,500 published through GBIF (7,589 georeferenced).
  • Addition of 100 species fact sheets (20 from each partner) to the Colombian Biodiversity Catalogue
  • Publication of trait data from 2,353 plant specimens via GBIF and SiB Colombia based on new functional trait protocol developed with project partners
  • Purchase and installation of, and training on, imaging stations at four herbaria that can be used to photograph plants from other ecosystems as well

Lessons Learned

The project demonstrated commendable commitment to accomplishing the goals they outlined, even in the face of disruptive personnel turnover at SiB Colombia and other key partner institutions. They acknowledged that it was often difficult for some of the partner herbaria, some of whom did not have full-time curators on staff, to dedicate sufficient resources to the time-consuming work. As a result, not all records could be completely revised and assigned before publication. This is a trade off to working with the smaller herbaria, which might experience the greatest benefit of capacity-building, and might hold records of particular relevance to the project.

Relevant Publications

Pizano, C;  H García (Eds) (2014) El Bosque Seco Tropical en Colombia. Instituto de Investigación de Recursos Biológicos Alexander von Humboldt (IAvH). Bogotá, D.C., Colombia. (link)

Notes from JRS

The Humboldt Institute used cutting-edge biodiversity informatics tools, standards and networks to ensure that relevant biodiversity data for dry forest conservation is readily available.  JRS is  interested to see that our funding creates the broadest impact through the informatics outputs as well as through the networks of collaborators and users of data.  The project team has done an exemplary job of supporting the partner herbaria, customizing training for partner needs, and convening partners to share results and skills.  The success reflects the importance of identifying partner and building relationships as a first project priority.  Though there were occasional delays in the rate of specimen digitization and public data access, this project was extremely productive and exceeded its goals.  We also refer to this project as one of the very best managed JRS projects with exemplary coordination of the partners through regular meetings, equipment support, and shared protocols.  One of the small tools that was employed was to give each partner herbarium its own face on the web for its digitized collections which helped to build local ownership and ensure sustained effort after the project period.  We also see the effects of a strong institution and a strong GBIF node in Sistema de Información sobre Biodiversidad de Colombia (“SiB”) that helps to elevate all biodiversity informatics in Colombia.

Last Updated: February 28th, 2017

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