Botanical Resources Available Online (BRAVO) for the Colombian flora: workshop Villa de Leyva

Thanks to support received through the Newton Fund, British Council and Colciencias a project that will work on a series of permanent ecological forest plots in different regions of Colombia has been initiated under the direction of RBGE, Universidad del Rosario, Universidad del Tolima and Colombian NGO ColTree. The aim of the project is to improve identification of individual plants in plots through the creation of a virtual herbarium of images of the specimens collected in each of the plots and the generation of DNA barcode data. The project is running in parallel with one at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew that aims to develop an online portal for plant species of Colombia.


An essential part of this project is the standardization of naming across plots. The project is currently running a workshop at the museum of the Alexander von Humboldt Institute, Claustro de San Augustín, Villa de Leyva, studying the 5,000 or so specimens collected thus far.


Specialists in families of plants are identifying specimens and teaching identification skills to plot monitors and students associated with the plots from different regions of Colombia (from Chocó, to the Caribbean, Amazonía and Antioquia). The project will be of enormous benefit to studies in taxonomy, phylogeny, ecology and forest dynamics all of which contribute to the conservation of Colombia’s immense biodiversity and the ecosystem services it provides. An additional aim of the project is to provide plot data to the RAINFOR network.


Representatives from the following institutes were in attendance: Colegio Mayor de Antioquia, Instituto Alexander von Humboldt, Jardín Botánico de Medellín, Universidad de Antioquia, Universidad Distrital Francisco José de Caldas, Universidad Industrial de Santander, Universidad de los Andes, Universidad de los Llanos, Universidad Tecnológica del Chocó, Universidad Nacional – Sede Medellín, Universidad Nacional Abierta y a Distancia -UNAD, Universidad del Norte, Universidad de Quindio, Universidad de Caldas, Universidad del Rosario, Universidad del Tolima, Fundación Convida, the Ticuna-Huitoto indigenous reservation in Amazonas, the Nonuya Villa Azul indigenous reservation in Caquetá, and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. See below for a map of where participants are located.

workshop participant map

Photos: Lina Maria Corrales


Using dated molecular phylogenies to help reconstruct geological, climatic, and biological history

Many of our studies are based on determining how groups of plants have been impacted by historical geological or climatic events. However, in our recent article, published in the Geological Journal, we outline how dated molecular phylogenies may provide information for geologists that may shed light on tectonic and orogenic processes and may also help reconstruct climatic histories. Click here for a link to the article.

Last days of the field course

The field course concluded last Sunday in Chicaque, a private reserve close to Bogota.


The reserve is located between 2100 and 2600 metres above sea level with a diverse array of plant families giving our students even more to think about. There were also spectacular views across the Magdalena Valley.


We thank Julieth Serrano and Zoe Goodwin (principal professors on the course and recent graduates from University of Edinburgh/RBGE and the University of Oxford respectively), Francisco Fajardo and Natalia Contreras (Jardin Botanico de Bogota) and Carlos Vargas (Universidad del Rosario) for assisting with the course. We also acknowledge the help of staff at each of the reserves we visited whose help faciliated a highly successful first field course in Colombia.


Field course visits Otun Quimbaya

We travelled from Rio Claro through part of the coffee district stopping to see high altitude Páramo vegetation on the way.



We spent the last four days at the Otun Quimbaya Flora and Fauna Sanctuary that is located in an area of cloud forest at about 1900 above sea level.



The area is rich in RBGE focus research groups such as Begonia, Renealmia, Solanaceae and Gesneriaceae….


….as well as some spectacular localities….


The main objective is to teach how to identify plant families….



….and how to collect…


We are now heading to our final field site at the Chicaque Reserve in Cundinamarca.

RBGE Masters field course in Colombia

RBGE Masters students are now in Colombia where they will visit three sites at different altitudes with varied vegetation. We started in lowland wet forest on karst at the Rio Claro Reserve in Antioquia after a six hour journey from Bogota.


El Refugio, Reserva Natural Rio Claro.


The students hard at work learning the basics of identifying tropical plant families.


…and in the field collecting…


Begonia growing close to running water.


We are now on our way to our second field site in Otun Quimbaya, Quindio…heart of the coffee growing dstrict.


Congratulations Mafe!

Mafe successfully defended her thesis on Thursday! Her work focused on the interactions between ants and there Tococa (Melastomataceae) host plants. Mafe generated, analyzed and interpreted huge amounts of DNA sequence data to determine how these plant insect interactions were effected by the uplift of the Andes.




Mafe pushed the boundaries back with her research. We are sure she will continue to do the same in the future.


Congratulations Julieth!

Julieth Serrano successfully defended her thesis on Tuesday. The work focused on using herbarium and DNA sequence data to assess patterns in the distribution of Sapotaceae. Julieth is interested in applying this data to practical conservation particularly within Colombia.


Julieth conducted extensive fieldwork in various parts of Colombia.


She also immersed herself in Botanics and local culture.


Congratulations again to Julieth for being such a valued member of our research team.

Solutions for resolving phylogenies in recently evolved groups: a case study in Zingiberaceae

Eugenio Valderrama recently had a paper accepted for publication in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. In it he details how he discovered new phylogenetic markers that are needed to resolve relationships amongst species of the genus Renealmia (Zingiberaceae) that is the only genus in the family native to the neotropics. The markers were designed to be short in length and thus suitable for use on the often degraded DNA that is recovered from herbarium specimens. The genus is also found in Africa and the data will be used to determine whether there are differences in diversification rates between African and neotropical lineages. Click here for a link to the article.


Renealmia lucida Photo Eugenio Valderrama.

Paramo research featured on Colombia Calling

Colombia Calling is a weekly podcast by Anglo-Canadian expat journalist Richard McColl. The 10th of October presentation (number 204) “Explaining Colombia´s Paramos” featured an interview with researchers at the Rosario University in Bogota who focus some of their work on the paramo ecosystem. The podcast can be heard at Richard’s website

A new species of Begonia from Colombia

Begonia solaniflora Jara is a new species from Colombia’s Eastern Cordillera recently described in the journal Phytotaxa. It is a representative of a section of Begonia that was studied by Adolfo Jara, a student of the University of the Andes who spent six months on an RBGE study visit to work with our Begonia team. Its name refers to the general aspect of the staminate flowers that are reminiscent of Solanum.


It is known from only two locations and was categorized as critically endangered in the publication. Adolfo continues with his taxonomic work and plans to publish more new species in the near future.


Photos Adolfo Jara.