Congratulations Adolfo…and more new species of Begonia

Adolfo Jara, a student from the University of Los Andes who was co-supervised by James Richardson, recently successfully defended his thesis entitled “Systematics and Biogeography of Begonia section Casparya“.

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Two new species of Begonia were published by Adolfo as part of this work (http://dx.doi.org/10.11646/phytotaxa.257.1.6).

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Begonia suaviola Jara, one of Adolfo´s new species, from Serrania de Los Paraguas, Valle del Cauca, Colombia.

Adolfo spent six months at RBGE working on the molecular aspects of his project. In addition to the new species, Adolfo also studied the biogeography and diversification of Begonia in the Andes.

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Congratulations Karina!

More good news! Today Karina passed her viva examination – congratulations Dr Banda-R!

The following is posted on behalf of Toby Pennington

Karina’s research topic was the tropical dry forests in Latin America, which are amongst the world’s most threatened tropical forests.  Less than 10% of their original extent remains in many countries, much less than many rain forests such as Amazonia that remains approximately 80% intact.  Dry forests were the cradle of pre-Colombian civilisation in Latin America, and the source of globally important crops such as maize, beans, peanuts and tomato, but despite this and their widespread destruction, they have been long-overlooked by scientists and conservationists.

Karina’s project started with a focus on the tropical dry forests of Colombia, but expanded to take in the entire area of Latin America and the Caribbean via her role in the Latin American Seasonally Dry Tropical Forest Floristic Network – DRYFLOR, for which she co-ordinated work in Colombia. DRYFLOR includes more than 50 scientists and conservationists and has developed an unprecedented database of dry forest tree species, based upon 1602 inventories across Latin America and the Caribbean. As part of her PhD, Karina led the analyses of this huge dataset for a paper published in the journal Science that show that these dry forests contain a remarkable 6958 species of woody plants. Karina showed that species found in different regions of dry forest are seldom shared, meaning that each contains species growing nowhere else. This conveys a simple but urgent message that numerous protected areas across many countries will be needed to protect the full diversity of dry forests. In the light of probable warmer climates in the tropics, conservation of unique dry forest species that have adaptations to heat and drought should be global priority.

Publishing a paper in Science during a PhD is a remarkable achievement for Karina. Her hope is that these results will provide the scientific framework within which, for the first time, national decision makers can contextualise the significance of their dry forests at a regional and continental scale.

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Karina in her element, the tropical dry forest.

Congratulations Javier!

Javier passed his viva examination today – congratulations Dr Luna-Castro!

Javier studied the phylogeny, taxonomy, floral evolution and biogeographic history of Gesneriaceae and conducted a morphometric study of artificially raised hybrids between species of Streptocarpus. He also participated in RBGE’s floral morphology discussion groups. Javier also contributed greatly to rbgeColombia’s outreach program being an active and enthusiastic contributor including running his own workshops as part of The University of Edinburgh’s Innovative Learning Week (Ancient myths have more to say than western science on Amazonian sustainability?).

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Javier ready to engage in conversation with festival-goers at the 2013 Wickerman Festival. From left to right: Eva, Eugenio and Javier (photo by Suzanne Nairn)

rbgeColombia, eight years of ongoing collaborative research

Last week, we had the opportunity to present the results of more than eight years of ongoing collaborative research between Colombia and the UK during the Colombia State visit. The event, hosted by the Natural History Museum in London, brought together leading institutions in biodiversity research with a particular focus on Colombia.

Some photos of the event below.

 

rbgeColombia aims to study the biogeography, evolution and conservation of Colombian biomes whilst running an outreach programme promoting its research. Find more here.

Follow us on Twitter @rbgeColombia

The peace process in Colombia: new challenges and opportunities in conservation

Following what is hoped will be the final peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) Clerici and collaborators at the University of Rosario called for a program of environmentally sustainable economic development. In a recent letter published in the October issue of the journal Science, they highlight the importance of adequate planning of rural development. This letter is an open call for a much-needed conversation amongst the academic community, the government, the industry and local communities to ensure that economic development does not come at the expense of Colombian biodiversity.

The letter can be accessed at http://science.sciencemag.org/content/354/6309/190.2.

 

rbgeColombia aims to study the biogeography, evolution and conservation of Colombian biomes whilst running an outreach programme promoting its research. Find more here

Follow us on Twitter @rbgeColombia

Neotropical dry forests make it to the cover of Science!

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We are very excited to announce that a new paper on the plant diversity and conservation of neotropical dry forests has been published in the journal Science. This paper is the result of a massive collaborative effort from DryFlor – the Latin American and Caribbean Seasonally Dry Tropical Forest Floristic Network – and highlights the challenges facing the conservation of this highly threatened biodiversity hotspot.

You can access the paper here

Find out more about the neotropical dry forest here

The Wild Magic of Colombian biodiversity

We were delighted to attend the screening of the documentary Colombia Magia Salvaje on Thursday 28th June at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE). Along with one hundred and fifty enthusiastic attendants, we embarked on a journey through Colombia’s incredibly diverse ecosystems. The magnificent shots took us from immaculate snow capped peaks in the Andes to the endless Amazon rainforest. The film also features some of the country’s most representative animals and plants. Animals such as the jaguar – the largest feline in the Americas – and the spectacled bear – the only bear species native to South America – made an appearance. So did the wax palm, Colombia’s national tree which can be found from 2000 meters above sea level, growing up to 45 m on the steep Andean slopes! Just to give you a taster.

Colombia Magia Salvaje is the first of its kind for Colombia and it is the most watched documentary in the history of the country’s cinema. It has successfully introduced global audiences to the extraordinary biodiversity of Colombia, the second most biodiverse country in the World, and raised awareness about the unfortunate but very real threats facing its ecosystems – expansion of agricultural and industrial activities, illegal logging, illegal trade of wildlife, water pollution, extensive mining exploitation and habitat degradation.

The event was jointly organised by RBGE and the Embassy of Colombia in the United Kingdom. A selection of photos from the reception preceding the screening is shown below. All photos by Amy Fokinther.

 

 

rbgeColombia aims to study the biogeography, evolution and conservation of Colombian biomes whilst running an outreach programme promoting its research. Find more here.

Follow us on Twitter @rbgeColombia

Congratulations Eugenio

Congratulations to Eugenio Valderrama who successfully defended his PhD thesis at RBGE one week ago (apologies for the late posting!). Eugenio´s PhD utilized DNA sequence data obtained from a screen of markers from transcriptomes of three species of Renealmia (Zingiberaceae). The markers were used to produce a dated phylogeny of nearly all the species that was then used to compare diversification rates between African and Neotropical lineages of the genus. Faster rates were found in the Neotropical lineages, consistent with the hypothesis of more rapid speciation in the Neotropics being responsible for the greater diversity found there. This rapid speciation may be associated with the uplift of the Andes mountains in Northwestern South America from the mid to late Miocene. Eugenio also produced an account fo the Colombian species of Renealmia.

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Celebrating the defence: Karina, Eugenio, Mafe, Julieth, Andreas and Maca. Photo: Toby Pennington.

The Age of Chocolate

Together with researchers at the University of the Andes, University of Miami and the USDA we have recently published an article that investigates the diversification history of Theobroma (the genus to which Theobroma cacao, the source of chocolate, belongs). We show that the genus and its relative Herrania diversified from approximately thirteen million years ago. This diversification coincided with, and may in part have been caused by, the formation of the Andes Mountains in Northwestern South America. Colombia is home to 50% of the 20 or so species in Theobroma and is thus a centre of diversity for the genus.

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We also show that Theobroma cacao evolved 10 million years ago which means that we should not be surprised to see extensive genetic diversity within the species. Varieties of cacao that have different flavours or may be resistant to fungal diseases may be of benefit to a growing chocolate industry. Maintenance of this genetic diversity in its natural state, together with the animals that pollinate flowers and disperse fruits in native ecosystems, has the potential to assist with improving the quality and quantity of production that could help ensure an environmentally and economically sustainable future for the chocolate industry.

You can download a pdf of the article here.