Universidad Nacional de Colombia (2013)
Plantas de Colombia Online
Last Updated: January 29th, 2020
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.
- 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.
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).
- 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 available as well.
- TRIANA – named in honor of the author of the first flora of Colombia and his large historical collection of specimens dating from the 1850’s – is now online! This new tool permits simultaneous searches of the ICN’s four online botanical resources: the National Colombian Herbarium, the Catalogue of Plants and Lichens of Colombia, the Dictionary of Common Names of Colombian Plants, and Flora de Colombia.
- Flora de Colombia, a digital interactive monographic series, is now online. The series presently treats approximately 1,000 species and includes keys, descriptions, maps, photographs and illustrations, all now available online in a user-friendly and shareable format.
- 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.
- Over the coming year, the Flora content will be integrated into the World Flora Online portal to help meet the CBD Global Strategy for Plant Conservation 2010-2020 Target of an online documentation for all known plants.
- The Dictionary of Common Names of Colombian Plants now contains informal descriptions were fully completed for 1,060 species and partially completed for 725 species, and more than 2,200 photographs of live plants were organized to be incorporated.
- The Workshop on Best Practices in Georefrencing hosted 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.
- As a result of this project, there is a greater recognition and institutional support for our Informatics program.
This project benefitted from the strong partnerships built through the challenges and opportunities during the first phase of work. 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.
Issues that arose during the project were largely resolved at the time of completion. Fore example, by the end of the project, new methods and protocols were being used to address geo-referencing and to distribute tasks most appropriately among students and professional staff. Additionally, while an unfortunate confluence of delayed hardware purchase and accidental damage to existing hardware delayed the launch of the web portal, the team launched TRIANA in 2018 to much acclaim. 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. One persistent issue is how to integrate project specimen data into global and national biodiversity platforms. All of the specimen data are currently accessible on a Colombia’s National University server and significant portions are currently being shared with GBIF and SIB Colombia (the national GBIF node). The University does not have a formal data-sharing policy. At the moment the University has no written guidelines on the issue, despite repeated efforts to create a single institution-wide policy on licensing of digital data generally and restrictions on biodiversity data in particular (releasing localities of endangered species for example). This has made incorporating project data into platforms such as GBIF and SIB Colombia difficult. Nevertheless, the ICN will be making all of the >600,000 specimen records available in stages through SIB Colombia.
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.