RBGE has been conducting a research program on the family Sapotaceae for nearly a decade. This family is distributed throughout the tropics usually in wet forests. In recent years we have expanded this research into northern South America and specifically into Colombia. Research by undergraduate student Ariadna Mondragon of the University of the Andes will be complemented by that of Julieth Serrano who worked on the family for her Masters project and will begin a PhD at RBGE in September. We are also working with undergraduate student Paola Piñeros and Masters student Dayana Sanchez on taxonomy and DNA barcoding of Micropholis in Colombia respectively, supervised by Professor Rocío Cortés of the Universidad Distrital and RBGE’s James Richardson.
As part of this research effort Rocío, Dayana and Paola recently travelled to a relatively unexplored region of Colombian Amazonia in the Department of Caquetá. This area is characterized by typical Amazonian wet forest but also by areas of the distinctive vegetation found on white sand substrates that are the subject of a PhD by RBGE’s Peruvian student Roosevelt Garcia. Roosevelt is investigating the biogeographic history of several genera that are found on white sands throughout Amazonia and the Guianas. This substrate is low in nutrients and high in aluminium and thus provides a challenging environment for plants. The vegetation is easily distinguishable from typical closed canopy tropical wet forest as plants grow to a lower height and are more numerous in number.
In their 10 day trip, on which they were accompanied by Fabio Avila, the curator of the Herbario Forestal (UDBC) of the Universidad Distrital, they collected 200 individuals including 23 of Sapotaceae, 15 Chrysobalananceae, species of numerous other families and a newly discovered Colombian endemic genus of Rhamnaceae named after the capital of the department of Caquetá, Araracuara. These samples will be incorporated into molecular phylogenetic studies of each of these groups.
The expedition began with a flight from Bogotá to Araracuara via San Vicente del Caguan. From there boat trips were made along the Rio Caquetá and Río Yarí for six hours. The team trekked through the jungle for two hours in search of the target species. It was a surprise for the team to find the recently described Araracuara vetusta (Rhamnaceae) dominant in the Cerro La Gamitana with plenty of fruits. From there the team travelled to Quebrada Quinche, a journey of ten hours. The trip was a huge success visiting stunning landscapes, a range of different vegetation types and making numerous interesting collections.