Tropical America Programme: Key achievements 2006-2011
The Tropical America Team has consolidated its strengths in key geographical and technical areas, broadening its remit and network of collaborators to meet institutional and international priorities. Principal foci have remained Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Peru, with increased levels of activity within the humid zones. Conservation and sustainable use of plants have provided key drivers for much of the programme’s development.
Discovery and global access to information
Kew’s taxonomists continue to play an important role in taxonomic research in Latin America, particularly in the Compositae, Rubiaceae, Leguminosae, Myrtaceae, Cyperaceae, Cactaceae, Chrysobalanaceae, Melastomataceae, Meliaceae, Elaeocarpaceae, Acanthaceae, Apocynaceae, Malvaceae, Lamiaceae, Proteaceae and Sapotaceae families. Inventory projects in Bolivia, Brazil and Peru have resulted in numerous discoveries including many new species. Establishment of data management procedures using Brahms software has helped to streamline collections and image management, and the largest plant family curated by the Team in the Herbarium (Compositae) has been entirely recurated and moved to pest-free storage facilities. Major accessions of herbarium collections have been received through project work in Bolivia and Brazil, and through continuing specimen exchange programmes.
Among the significant achievements in this area have been The New Cactus Lexicon, monographs of Neotropical Acacia and Cedrela, an online Checklist of the Compositae of Bolivia and a second (revised) edition of the Flora Neotropica treatment for Meliaceae. A revision of Neotropical Sloanea is nearing completion, revisions of Salvia, Clinopodium, Aloysia and Tecoma have been produced for Bolivia, and many significant contributions have been made to other regional/national floras and florulas including Flora of the Guianas and Flora Mesoamericana. Kew’s taxonomic specialists continue to provide an important specimen naming service for collaborators working in the Neotropics.
Another major advance has been the Brazilian Checklist (2010), completed in time to meet Target 1 of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation and providing a landmark in scientific knowledge for the region. Kew provided data from the World Checklist Project and, amongst over 400 botanists involved, several Kew scientists either as contributors or in the overall co-ordination and analysis of the project.
Providing access to herbarium data in support of botanical research and conservation has remained an important area of work. Following the conclusion of the Northeast Brazil Repatriation Project, which produced a series of printed checklists over this period, the Latin American Plants Initiative (LAPI) digitized and databased over 100,000 Neotropical type specimens: a fundamentally important resource for researchers in the region. At present Kew is developing, together with the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), a project to repatriate data and images of Kew's important Brazilian herbarium specimens.
Another priority area has been development of resources for the identification of Neotropical plants. Neotropikey, a collaborative initiative involving over 100 botanical specialists, was developed by Kew over a four-year period and launched in 2010. Initially providing a multi-access key and individual web pages for Neotropical plant families, the project is now developing genus-level plant identification resources. Local-language, illustrated field guides to native plants have been produced as part of inventory projects in Brazil, Peru and Bolivia. Additional products, including a live Neotropical plant image database and a vegetation data map, have been launched online.
Building capacity for taxonomic and systematic research in the Neotropics has been the main focus of the KLARF programme, which terminated in 2009 after 10 years funding research fellowships at Kew for Latin American research students and professionals. The programme fostered many new research partnerships and produced a range of important scientific outputs. Projects supported by the Darwin Initiative in Bolivia and Peru also included strong elements of training, in areas with limited local expertise, helping to build capacity for botanical research and conservation. In 2011 a successful Herbarium Techniques Course was held in Botucatu, Brazil, with attendees from various Latin American countries.
Kew has also maintained an active programme of phylogenetic research on Neotropical plants, including Myrtaceae (e.g. publication of detailed phylogenies of tribe Myrteae), Orchidaceae, Bromeliaceae, Leguminosae, Cactaceae (subfamily Opuntioideae and tribe Rhipsalideae) and Araceae. Broad studies of angiosperms have revealed the relationships of many Neotropical groups (e.g. Petenaea, one of the few genera incertae sedis in the APG III classification).
Identifying highly threatened species and regions
Following its work with the Brazilian Checklist, Kew is engaging in developing the Brazilian Red List (co-ordinated by CNCFlora), which aims to provide conservation analyses for all known (33,885) species in the country. The Neotropical component of the Sampled Red List Index Project (SRLI) is feeding directly into this programme. Additional species conservation analyses have been routinely undertaken in the context of taxonomic studies, and Kew’s experts have taken part in international workshops aiming to produce a global assessment of all known Cactaceae species.
At the geographical level, conservation assessments have been distributed to relevant stakeholders for all habitats mapped in the course of vegetation studies in Brazil and Bolivia, helping to identify conservation priorities on the ground. In Bolivia, Kew partnered a major botanical research programme in the cerrado (savanna) vegetation, which identified a number of priority areas for conservation. Studies of the Myrtaceae in the highly threatened Atlantic Forests of Brazil have helped to establish techniques for applying data from target plant groups for prediction of biodiversity hotspots, thus helping target conservation initiatives. Kew also played a key role in the publishing an Action Plan for the Cactaceae of Brazil: the first for a group of plants in a series dominated by animal groups.
Supporting in-situ conservation
In Brazil, Peru and Bolivia, Kew has developed collaborative projects supporting conservation planning and prioritization. Programa Flora Cristalino worked over three years to develop baseline vegetation and inventory data to support conservation in a strategically important sector of the southern Brazilian Amazon, contributing to the establishment of new private protected areas and the finalization of a management plan for the Cristalino State Park. This led to a follow-on programme, building on partnerships with local governmental and non-governmental organizations and universities, targeting other priority areas in northern Mato Grosso.
Similar projects have been undertaken in southeastern Brazil (supporting the establishment of new protected areas in an area of high plant endemism in cerrado and campo rupestre vegetation), the central Brazilian Amazon (supporting establishment of a community managed ‘extractive reserve’), and in Bolivia (supporting a new municipal reserve in an area of high cactus diversity). In Peru, Kew has worked with local partners to establish a new reserve in one of the few remaining fragments of dry forest , and is developing a project to support management planning in adjacent areas of threatened lomas vegetation.
Kew is also making an impact on conservation management through engagement with the private sector, including provision of technical support for the development of biodiversity management procedures, threatened species management strategies (ex situ conservation and propagation) and biodiversity offsets on mine sites in Brazil and Panama.
In Costa Rica Kew has completed its Conservation and Monitoring of Meso-American Orchids project, with funding from the Darwin Initiative, which included capacity building and training, establishment of long-term monitoring sites and procedures, and DNA barcoding.
Sustainable use of plant resources
Kew has maintained its collaborative programme in Northeast Brazil with a focus on sustainable management of fuelwood in the dry caatinga vegetation. The six-year experimental programme is complete and the project is now finalising the outreach and communication components including a stakeholder workshop, production of information sheets on sustainable management procedures, and scientific publications.
In southern Peru Kew has worked with local communities to promote the development of sustainable products from native dry forest vegetation. Test products are now on the market and annual events (festivals) are held locally to raise public awareness of the value of native plants. Research has been conducted into ancient varieties of useful trees, with the aim of conserving genetic stock for local benefit. A collaborative project with the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh has produced a Guide to the useful trees of the Peruvian Andes.
Kew is in the process of establishing projects in the Brazilian and Bolivian Amazon supporting the development and marketing of sustainable forest products, integrated where appropriate with establishment of agroforestry systems and ecological restoration to support community livelihoods and promote biodiversity conservation.
In 2009 Kew became a partner in the five-year EU Palms Project. Focused on northwest South America (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru), this initiative aims to address the impacts of palm harvests in the tropical forests of the region.
Additional work relating to economic botany has included a revision and republication (in Portuguese) of the ethnobotany of the Yanomami Indians, and a PhD study of the cross-cultural work of Everard im Thurn in 19th century Guyana.
In this period the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (MSBP) successfully completed ex situ conservation projects in the arid and semi-arid zones of Mexico (1,900 native species collections) and Chile (1,100 collections). Also in Mexico, the MGU/Useful Plants Project (Conservation of the Useful Plants from San Rafael Coxcatlán) began in June 2007. During the first stage the project has conserved seeds of important useful plants, and undertaken ethno-ecological, phytochemical, physiological and propagation studies of priority species.
The MSBP has begun building technical capacity in the Spanish Caribbean. In the Dominican Republic it has provided training and advice for ex situ conservation, seed banking design and seed testing (orthodox vs. recalcitrant species), and 97 collections of 68 species have been banked. In Cuba it has providing training to manage seed collections for ecological restoration.
During 2010 the MSBP increased engagement with Brazil through signing an MoU with EMBRAPA-CENARGEN which will facilitate research collaboration and technology transfer for conservation of seeds. Training in seed biology is now provided annually at Brazil’s Amazon Research Institute (INPA) in Manaus.
The Cactus Seed Biology Database, a project including Mexico, Dominican Republic, Argentina, Chile and Peru, has been completed and the database published.
In southern Peru Kew has completed a four-year project promoting ecological restoration in dry forest habitats. The project included benchmark vegetation studies, establishment of nurseries and propagation technologies, experimental restoration trials, training and capacity building, community and schools engagement programmes, and development of innovative approaches to integrating native biodiversity into agricultural systems and practices. The project has left a strong legacy in the region and reforestation and education activities are continuing with external funding support. A follow-up project, focusing on further engagement with the agricultural sector and community restoration for landscape connectivity, has been proposed.
In Brazil and Panama, Kew has provided technical and strategic recommendations to extractive industries on the restoration of mine sites using native species.
Public communication and education
Kew’s collaborative environmental education project in Argentina has continued to inform and inspire the public through the development of interpretation centres, distance learning courses and educational materials. In La Serena, Chile, support has been provided for the establishment of a new botanic garden, whilst in Bolivia and Mexico public understanding and engagement have been promoted through the production of information sheets and leaflets specifically targeted at ecotourists visiting key conservation areas.
Within Kew, public awareness of Latin American plants and conservation issues has been raised through various activities and events in the Gardens, including the 2011 Tropical Extravaganza (focused on the Amazon) and Old and New South American Botanical Art (Shirley Sherwood Gallery). The Margaret Mee Fellowship Programme's Artist Scholarships have continued to provide training for aspiring Brazilian botanical artists.Information on Kew’s activities in Latin America, and on Latin American plants, is now available on the Internet through a rapidly developing web site whose visitor numbers have been steadily increasing.
Conferences and workshops
- Kew has regularly contributed scientific papers to the key botanical conferences in the region, including the Latin American Botanical Congress and the Brazilian Botanical Congress.
- The team has also contributed to key international conferences and seminars held in Kew on ecological restoration and conservation.
- In October 2008 Kew (SCD, HPE) co-organised the first international workshop and training course on the propagation of Chilean native species for conservation and habitat restoration.
- Kew co-organised and co-chaired the Seed Management for Ecological Restoration workshop within the Simposio Internacional sobre Restauración Ecológica in Santa Clara in 2007 and 2010.
- The final workshop of the Darwin project Orchid Seed Stores for Sustainable Use (Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Mexico) was held in September 2010 at the University of Costa Rica in San José, Costa Rica.
- Kew co-organized and contributed to a workshop in Pernambuco, Northeast Brazil on the sustainable use of of the caatinga vegetation in March 2011.
The Tropical America Team has engaged with the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC) primarily through its work with the development of the Brazil Checklist and, more recently, the Brazilian Red List. The team has participated in an internal review of Kew’s current and potential role in the development of REDD+ and has engaged with pilot REDD+ projects in Brazil. It has also provided advisory input over the past five years into the establishment of international mechanisms for biodiversity offsets through BBOP (Business and Biodiversity Offsets Programme).
Formal collaborative agreements
- Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnicológico (CNPq), Brazil
- Empresa Brasileira de Pesqisa Agronomica (EMBRAPA CENARGEN), Brazil
- Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia (INPA), Brazil
- Jardim Botânico de Rio de Janeiro (JBRJ), Brazil
- Museo de Historia Natural Noel Kempff Mercado, Bolivia
- Associação Plantas do Nordeste, Brazil
Keep up to date with events and news from Kew