Collections-based engagement of decision-makers to save globally threatened epiphytes in Colombia

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Rodriguezia lanceolata
Rodriguezia lanceolata Ruiz & Pav. observed in Colombia by Johnnier Arango (licensed under

Epiphytes (plants growing on other plants) are one of the most diverse and vulnerable communities in the tropical Andes ecosystem, in which Colombia alone is home to about 20 per cent of global epiphyte diversity. An unknown proportion of this extraordinary biodiversity, however, remains to be discovered, understood, and ultimately protected.

Overall, only 62,000 records corresponding to 2,000 species of a total of ~7,000 epiphytes estimated in Colombia are available through the repository of the Colombian GBIF node. Given the insufficient information available, synthesis and analysis of extinction risks, opportunities for sustainable use, and prioritization of areas and species for conservation are out of reach and have so far mainly focused on charismatic orchids.

A national community of specialists on epiphytes is now working to investigate and protect this plant community with some initiatives already granted by national and international agencies (e.g., NatGeo granted a project lead by the Botanical Garden of Medellin to rescue epiphytes in Antioquia).

This project combines capacities from five of the largest herbaria in Colombia and their host institutions to unlock the utility of the epiphytes and their floral visitors' collections for conservation actions by:

  1. making available 20,000 collection-based records
  2. providing conservation assessments of six prioritized groups,
  3. raising public awareness through a focused campaign, and
  4. providing analyses for environmental decisions.

This project is lead by a consortium of national experts with a well-established experience on epiphytic lineages who will ensure accurate identifications of the specimens linked to the newly published open data.

Project progress

To the date, the project accomplished a systematization process for approximately 27,598 records corresponding to 3,350 taxa (6,585 records at JAUM, 10,913 for HUA, 4,239 for COL and, 2,000 FMB, 3,860 for CUVC). A progress has been made in the extinction risk assessment process an elaborated a workflow to this process.

With the group of plant families' specialists, nearly 300 species have been selected based on at least one of three criteria proposed and agreed by specialist of each taxonomic groups:

(a) endemic species of Colombia,
(b) species important for their use or their detailed knowledge at the taxonomic level and/ or
(c) expert criteria.

In addition, a workflow has been established with a team of collaborators (specialist taxonomists) that will allow the team to monitor the progress in assessing the risk of extinction of prioritized species.

Up to now databases have been cleaned up for the following families: Araceae, Aspleniaceae, Bromeliaceae, Cyclanthaceae, Dryopteridaceae, Gesneriaceae, Hymenophyllaceae, Lomariopsidaceae, Oleandraceae, Orchidaceae, Piperaceae, Polypodiaceae, Hygrophoraceae, Peltigeraceae and Lobariaceae.

The systematization and cleaning of data was successfully carried out in the herbaria (JAUM, HUA, COL, FMB, and CUVC) for 27.597 records (3.350 species). For JAUM a total of 6.585 epiphyte records of 1.599 species (74 % of the records have coordinates, of which 2.124 coordinate records were reconstructed).
In CUVC, 3.860 records of 1.021 species (50 % of the records have coordinates, 1.032 records have been reconstructed). As for HUA, 10.912 epiphyte records of 1.868 species (35 % of the records have validated coordinates). National herbaria, COL, 4.239 epiphyte records of 1.230 species (27% of the records have
validated or reconstructed coordinates). Regarding taxonomic quality, for JAUM, a resolution was achieved up to species of 5.199 records, 1334 up to genus and 16 in family. In CUVC, 3.418 up to species, 397 in genus and 33 in family, COL with 4.108 records in species and 131 in genus and HUA records up to species 8.678,
genus 2.063 and family 22 records. For FMB, the dataset contains 1580 records of epiphytes and hemiepiphytes representing 38 botanical families (the most frequent Orchidaceae, Polypodiaceae, Bromeliaceae, Araceae y Piperaceae), 176 genus, 1068 species and 1 subspecies, and records coming from 25 political units in Colombia.

€ {{ 58682 | localNumber }}
€ {{ 60935 | localNumber }}
Type of grant
Data-use grant
1 September 2021 - 28 April 2023
Project identifier
Funded by
Contact details

Ana Maria Benavides
Fundación Jardín Botánico Joaquín Antonio Uribe de Medellín
Calle 73N 51D-14 Ciudad Medellín
4445500 Medellín

€ {{ 58682 | localNumber}}