Universidad de los Andes
Páramo Plants Online
Last Updated: January 29th, 2020
Páramos are tropical alpine ecosystems located above the treeline in the northern region of the Andes. They have a characteristic and unique biota that is the result of complex evolutionary processes which have worked to generate a large number of endemic species. An important driver of these processes is the isolation of páramo habitats across peaks of adjacent mountains, creating an archipelago-like distribution of individual páramo “islands”. Alpine habitats like the páramos are greatly threatened by climate change because, as global temperatures warm, suitable habitat moves up in altitude, shrinking the area available to species that require cooler conditions.
Knowledge of species representation in the páramos can be used to establish a baseline for the study of the evolutionary patterns and processes of the páramo biota, understand their ecological interactions, and aid in conservation efforts.
Key Objectives and Activities
This project has the general objective of gathering and constructing a relational database of the flora of the páramos that will be freely accessible online. Three datasets will comprise the database:
- Taxonomic dataset: The project will produce a list of páramo plant species with valid names, common synonyms and misspellings, organized in a consistent taxonomic structure.
- Locality dataset: By georeferencing available páramo plant species occurrence records to specific páramo “islands”, the project will create a gazetteer of páramo collection localities.
- Specimen dataset: The group will acquire and validate occurrence records for páramo plant species from herbaria and data repositories worldwide, integrating them with the taxonomic and locality datasets.
This project aims to create a web portal for páramo plant species in Colombia in order to promote the understanding of plant species diversity patterns in the páramo ecosystems. The web portal will permit search queries and data exports, browsing maps of contextualized species records (i.e., along with information on protected areas, parks, and and páramo habitat extent), and offer a reference library of published works linked to the relevant species.
- Standardized list of páramo plant species, including information on IUCN listing status, and global invasive status
- Georeferenced occurrence records for all páramo plant species
- Lists of plant species representation in individual páramo islands
- Altitudinal ranges of plant species from georeferenced species occurrence records
By making data on páramo plants publicly available, the project hopes to increase awareness and conservation of this hyper diverse and threatened ecosystem. Assembling all of the available data in one comprehensive resource will facilitate:
- Estimation of species endemism at varying geographical scales,
- Targeting páramo islands with low species representation where collecting efforts should be increased,
- Description of basic biogeographical patterns of páramo plant species distribution, such as how species vary across altitudes and size of habitat “island”.
Results to Date
The relational database incorporating all three datasets is now complete, having assembled and validated more than 160,000 unique páramo species occurrence records from Colombia, including over 900 genus and 4,400 species. Generating these records included an intensive process of identifying duplicates, synonymies and misspellings, and irrelevant infraspecies (subspecies that are not found in páramo habitats), starting with a dataset of more than 13M records of páramo species worldwide. The taxonomic dataset now includes all plant species occurring in the páramo, arranged under three different classification systems listed with both synonyms and accepted species names for lichens, vascular and non-vascular plants. The geographic component is comprised of a páramo locality gazeteer with more than 3,000 georeferenced localities, the official páramo atlas polygons, and geopolitical and protected area boundaries. The portal site is up and running and, after incorporating suggestions from external reviewers of the database, data is downloadable after any search, new map layers of protected areas and internal geopolitical boundaries have been added, and information on data references and validation are automatically included. Due to the success of the Universidad de los Andes team, they hope to expand this project to include data from other páramo countries, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Perú, Panamá, and Ecuador.
The georefrencing process proved extremely complex and time-consuming. Attempting to bring locality information up to current standards of precision is an ongoing challenge to projects modernizing historic data, but one that is critical to the utility of the resource. The group worked extensively to automate processes of data cleaning, increasing the efficiency with which records can be verified and corrected. This investment in refining the data cleaning systems enabled the project to rapidly incorporate a greater number of records, and keep the database up to date as, for instance, new ecosystem delineations for the páramo habitats were released. As the team developed the database, they selected the tools most suitable for project needs. For instance, using Leaflet has enhanced the speed and functionality of the portal’s mapping tools.
Additionally, upon completion of the project, the group looks forward to the future of the database. They expect the portal to be used by a broad array of users, including researchers in páramo topics, policy makers, environmental authorities, environmental agencies, and interested citizens. The group expects to maintain portal function, however, new funds must be found to improve or update the gathered information and algorithms. Therefore, the group is considering migrating the database to the Humbolt Institute in order to ensure long-term sustainability and a well maintained, updated web portal.
Project Director Biography
Dr. Santiago Madriñán received a Ph.D. from Harvard University in systematic botany in 1996. Since that time, he has been working at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, where he is an Associate Professor. As the director of the Laboratorio de Botánica y Sistemática, he teaches and researches aspects of neotropical plants with undergraduate and graduate students. He has studied the páramo flora, particularly, the patterns and processes of diversification of páramo plants, for more than 15 years, and published the Illustrated Flora of the Páramo of Chingaza. Dr. Madriñán is a scientific advisor to the Colombian Biodiversity Institute (Humboldt Institute), on several subjects, particularly páramo delimitation and plant evolution, and created, and currently directs, the ANDES Museum of Natural History at Universidad de los Andes.
Notes from JRS
JRS is pleased to have several grants working in Colombia and elsewhere in the Andes to make the knowledge of the region’s flora accessible to researchers and conservation actors. The Páramos are a particularly fascinating ecosystem as the high mountain areas are akin to evolutionary islands. This project is an important effort to properly identify and locate the plants of the Páramos by mining Colombian data as well as global resources. Like many JRS projects engaged in geo-referencing old collections, we are seeing the importance of locality gazeteers as a critical reference point as well as the challenges involved. Whereas many JRS grants have a species focus, we look forward to learning about ecosystem-based views into data and knowledge. In addition to the important data and scientific outputs of this project, JRS will learn about the possibilities for networking scientists and investing in capacity at a national level. Much of the progress to-date has been “behind-the-scenes” and the mobilized and corrected data is not accessible. We have learned that similar projects in the future should have intermediate outputs of public data to provide data access as well as to get input and engagement from user communities and other data publishers.