Universidad Nacional de Colombia (2013)

Plantas de Colombia Online

Project Details

Grant Amount: $170,000
Contact: Lauren Raz
Contact Email: LRaz 'atsign' unal.edu.co
Funding Dates: 12/15/13 - 12/14/15

For the first phase of this grant, click here.


Although the floral diversity of Colombia is among the richest in the world, with around 25,400 species, approximately a quarter of which are endemic, there was no comprehensive source of authoritative taxonomic information about Colombian plants. The Natural Science Institute (ICN) at Colombia’s National University has implemented three approaches to fill that gap by bringing all that information together into a single, easy-to-access, image-rich and searchable web resource called TRIANA. This web portal integrated multiple databases and resources, and was designed for scientists, teachers, students and policy makers who need access to an authoritative source of taxonomic, geographic, morphological and cultural information about Colombian plants.

Key Objectives and Activities

This grant was the second phase of a project that focused on launching the Colombian botanical web portal (TRIANA) and on making it a comprehensive resource on Colombian flora. Activities planned included completing and incorporating the Catálogo de las Plantas de Colombia (Catalogue of Colombian Plants), improving data quality via georeferencing, and expanding capacity for management of data quality through training and development of new reporting tools. In order to maintain engagement by the 185 plant taxonomic specialists that participated in the development of the Catalogue, this project aimed to extend the reporting functionality of the database to enlist these specialists in keeping the data up to date, and delineating the list of new specimens from páramo and wetland habitats. Content and images were to be added to the Dictionary of Common Names, the component of the portal that makes the information accessible and engaging for non-scientists.

Planned Outputs

  • Launch of the TRIANA portal consisting of 4 online resources: the Catalogue, the Flora de Colombia online monograph series, The Dictionary of Common names of Plants of Colombia, and the Virtual Herbarium.
  • Completion of catalogue content (25,400 species) and incorporation into the TRIANA online platform.
  • Addition of 40,000 new specimen records from páramo and wetland habitats to TRIANA and georeferencing of an additional 20,000 records to meet the initial goal of 50,000 records.
  • Expand the Dictionary of Common Names of the Plants of Colombia, and incorporate images of live specimens and informal descriptions for non-scientists.
  • Test and implement informatics tools to keep the Catalogue up to date.
  • Co‐organize with SIB Colombia a national workshop on Best Practices in Georeferencing.

Planned Outcomes

The Catalogue itself was intended to become the standard plant list for the country, including the Ministry of the Environment and its enforcement arms. Keeping this Catalogue up to date and accessible online would facilitate currency of other resources that rely on it, including government databases, and the national Red Lists upon which endangered species management decisions are based. The increased availability of high quality information via TRIANA presumed to stimulate botanical research and fuel scientific productivity, but the project also aimed to bridge the divide between scientists and non-scientists with the image-rich Dictionary, such that users could not only identify plants, but also identify with the plants they learn about. The process of developing tools to maintain data currency addresses the global need for database curation aids. Lastly, the specific focus on the addition of georeferenced records of páramo and wetlands species was expected to contribute to the conservation of these ecosystems, through habitat delineation and climate change modeling.

Primary Software Platforms

The Catalogue of the Plants of Colombia (in Excel) was integrated with the main Specify database, which is DarwinCore compliant. The web portal is hosted on ICN’s server, and data sharing with other entities currently occurred via TapirLink and other protocols but implemented GBIF’s Integrated Publishing Toolkit (IPT).

Project Results

  • The Catalogue of Plants and Lichens of Colombia was digitally launched on April 14, 2015, and received a great deal of traffic: >28,500 visits by >17,000 users as of the close of this project in 2015. The print version is now available as well.
  • Progress on the integrated search portal was ongoing at the close of the project, with designs completed and awaiting testing. The portal was projected to provide a gateway to the above 3 resources along with the Virtual Herbarium. The portal was renamed TRIANA, in honor of the author of the first flora of Colombia and his large historical collection of specimens dating from the 1850’s.
  • Flora de Colombia georeferencing target was met: 68,325 localities, corresponding to more than 70,000 specimens, were georeferenced adding powerful utility to the data.
  • For the Dictionary: informal descriptions were fully completed for 1060 species and partially completed for 725 species, and more than 2,200 photographs of live plants were organized to be incorporated.
  • Workshop on Best Practices in Georefrencing for 33 participants. Talks are available on the ICNUNC YouTube Channel. Beyond immediate participants, the materials and resources were used for an additional workshop at the Universidad de Antioquia – increasing capacity-building benefits.
  • Greater recognition and institutional support for our Informatics program.

Lessons Learned

This project benefitted from the strong partnerships built through the challenges and opportunities of the first phase of work. In addition, by the end of the project, the new methods and protocols were being used to address geo-referencing and to distribute tasks most appropriately among students and professional staff. An unfortunate confluence of delayed hardware purchase and accidental damage to existing hardware delayed the launch of the web portal, but the team looked forward to these additional resources earning as much attention as the launch of the Catalogue has. Printing of the hard copy of the catalogue was also delayed by the publishers, but the team nevertheless presented the digital copy at the Colombian Botanical Congress. Lastly, because this resource aimed to set the standard for the list of plants in Colombia, the team worked with the Ministry of the Environment to discuss ongoing funding of this resource, and how to facilitate sharing of the data with other services (National Forest Inventory, National Red List, Colombian Biodiversity Catalogue, etc.). Having such wide vested interest from the government in the success of these resources supports the scope and sustainability of national data assets such as these.

Project Director Biography

Lauren Raz is a botanist, and a specialist in the yam family, Dioscoreaceae, and a professor at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Bogotá, directing the biodiversity informatics program of the Instituto de Ciencias Naturales. She has previously worked at the New York Botanical Garden, and the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden (California). From 2004‐ 2007, Dr. Raz was curator of the herbarium at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden (Florida), where entered the world of biodiversity informatics as administrator of that institution’s Virtual Herbarium. Since 2007, she has been actively involved with the Global Plants Initiative, of which she is a Steering Committee member.

Notes from JRS

The JRS Biodiversity Foundation is proud to join the effort to put Colombia’s incredible flora online in terms of the collection records, taxonomic backbone, geo-referencing work, dictionary of names and other elements.  This effort has been underway for years and JRS’ support provides the resources to get the effort “across the finish line.”  We hope that the platform and its use help to raise the standard for national plant portals in Latin America and provides a model for JRS’ similar investments in Africa.

Last Updated: February 28th, 2017

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