Behind one website, TRIANA, is a story of persistence, dedication, and years of massive effort by the National University of Colombia (UNC). TRIANA is the home for the four of the University’s botanical repositories: Flora de Colombia, Dictionary of Common Names, The National Colombian Herbarium, and Catalogue of Plants and Lichens of Colombia. In one meta-search engine, anyone can search for data records within all four botanical repositories of the Institute of Natural Sciences at UNC by species Latin name or local Colombian name. With easy to use websites for each of the repositories, these resources bring scientific accuracy to Colombian plant, lichen, and flower identification to the general public, expanding the accessibility of these resources beyond the University walls. Not only do these websites increase access to Colombia’s biodiversity data for research and curious plant enthusiasts, they have inspired conservation action in country.
The databases that comprise TRIANA are a culmination of over 6 years of immense dedication from Raz and her team. Over the course of the JRS supported project, the team at UNC, led by Associate Professor Dr. Lauren Raz, has added over 130,000 specimens to these online platforms. “I’m kind of amazed,” said Raz, “It was a massive amount of work, but through optimism and determination, we just kept going.” Through hiring challenges, technical difficulties, staff turnover, and fluctuating institutional support, Raz and her team have overcome hurdle after hurdle to publish this database and bring Colombia’s botanic heritage to the public. One major technical challenge for the team was to try to automate the digitization process for the in-print Flora de Colombia volumes that contained massive inconsistencies from years of diverse data collection and documentation over time. However, this hard work is already paying off.
In the beginning, this project set about to stimulate scientific botanical research and bridge the gap between scientists and non-scientists, but it has already surpassed these goals by influencing Colombia’s environmental policy. The Ministry of the Environment has updated Colombia’s national endangered species list based on the taxonomic authority of this Catalogue. This new and flourishing partnership between Universidad Nacional de Colombia and the Ministry of the Environment demonstrates, that when a product is designed with application in mind, these tools can, and will, be put to use.
This project has also raised the bar for informatics in Colombia, expanding the use and know-how of geo-referencing, and promoting high data standards. Unlike other national databases throughout Latin America, this project represents a Colombian owned and driven comprehensive database. “I’m so happy Colombia is on the world stage of biodiversity informatics,” says Raz. Through these collections, it will be possible for Colombians to lead the way in conservation and determination of its own natural resource management.
Each repository in TRIANA houses unique data that offer users insights into Colombia’s rich world of plants. Flora de Colombia is an interactive database that brings 30 years of publication series, creating dynamic publications from static volumes of books from 1980 – 2017. There are approximately 1000 species that are described, including illustrated monographs, range maps, and illustrations. This project represents the gold standard of bioinformatics.
The Dictionary of Common Names provides an entry way for the public to learn about plants. This dictionary plays an important purpose, too, of clarifying and aligning the common and local Columbian names with the Scientific taxonomy. “If you want to use or conserve anything, you must have perfect clarity as to what you are referring to,” says Raz. The dictionary integrates seamlessly into the other databases, increasing searchability and ease of use for the other websites, as well.
The digital National Colombian Herbarium is the first of its kind in Colombia, and includes 450,000 of the herbarium’s 600,000 specimens. The Catalogue of Plants and Lichens of Colombia is the first complete checklist of Colombian plants ever published. Over 180 different authors from over 20 countries contributed to its making, documenting the country’s 28,000 plant and lichen species in one authoritative resource. Both of these products have had a big and far reaching impact thus far, each reaching more than 100,000 users with over 4 million page views since 2015.
Although the JRS grant has come to a close, Raz and her team will continue to build and develop these products through new and exciting collaborations. Raz and her team were recruited to contribute Colombia’s flora data to World Flora Online, a new initiative from the Convention on Biological Diversity. On a local level, the UNC team has also been engaged to contribute to more government platforms. Thanks to two new grants from Colombia BIO, a nationally funded program to support biological research, the group at UNC will carry on curating specimens and digitizing biodiversity data for years to come.