25 April 2016

Bolivian Botanical Conference in Sucre

Kew scientist Bente Klitgård reports back from the 3rd Bolivian Botanical Conference in Sucre, and explains the importance of scientific conferences.

Bolivian plains

The 3rd Bolivian Botanical Conference in Sucre, Bolivia’s cultural capital

Five Kew scientists (Alex MonroBente KlitgårdDanilo NevesNicholas Hind, and Gwilym Lewis) and two Bolivian scientists (Alejandro Araujo-Murakami and Ana Maria Carrion Cuellar), employed by the Kew-led Forest Future project attended the conference together with about 350 other international delegates.

The conference was held in Sucre, founded by the Spanish in the first half of the 16th century, and which prides itself as being the first capital of Bolivia. Its many well-preserved 16th century religious buildings illustrate the blending of local architectural traditions with styles imported from Europe and led it to be awarded the status of UNESCO World Heritage site in 1991.

Pre-conference preparations

Preparations for our attendance began in spring 2015 by securing funds for travel, registration and accommodation for everybody. Luckily most of us were able to combine participating in the conference with visits to our project partners in Kew’s Forest Future project, study visits and field work. Multitasking often helps keep travel costs down and make good use of our time while away from Kew.

Plenary symposium speakers

Some of us were invited as plenary speakers. I was asked to give a presentation on my experiences of research, education and conservation in the symposium ‘Botanic Gardens’. In true Latin American style this symposium was followed by a grand dinner in one of the town’s best restaurants, with awards made by the Mayor of Sucre, Dr Iván Arciénaga, for contribution to Bolivian science during the after-dinner speeches.

Conference presentations by Kew scientists

To make the most of the cost and time involved in attending a conference, Kew scientists are encouraged to present their work. In the 3rd Bolivian Botanical Conference Kew scientists presented six oral presentations and seven posters on different themes relating to Bolivian plant science. 

Flora of Bolivia

After years of international collaboration, including the participation of 11 Kew scientists, Bolivian vascular plants were comprehensively documented for the first time and the Catalogue of Bolivian Vascular Plant Species was published in 2014. The catalogue forms a solid base from which a Flora of Bolivia project can grow. This is a long-term project requiring planning, international collaboration and coordination. 

During the conference the Botanical Society of Bolivia invited delegates to a round table discussion entitled 'Flora of Bolivia'. I was among the delegates, representing Kew, which has more than a century of experience writing floras; and I was invited to join the board of the Flora of Bolivia project.

Tropical Important Plant Areas (TIPAs)

As part of the Kew Science Strategy launched in spring 2015, the Kew-led Tropical Important Plant Areas (TIPAs) strategic programme selected Bolivia as one of seven focus countries in the tropics. Prior to the conference, we gathered about 15 Kew scientists specialising in Bolivian plant biodiversity for a brainstorming workshop on Bolivian areas of particular importance for plants. 

Why are conferences important for scientists?

Attending scientific conferences is an important part of being a research scientist. Conferences offer a wealth of opportunities, for example to:  

  • present new research results and receive feedback from colleagues
  • explore new ideas for collaborative research projects 
  • network with existing colleagues and meet new colleagues and research students
  • hold workshops and training courses before and after the conference to keep travel and subsistence costs at an affordable level for students
  • call AGMs and committee meetings to capitalise on the fact that usually many members of specialist societies will often present at a conference


Jørgensen, P. M., Nee, M. H. & Beck, S. G. (2014). Catálogo de las plantas vasculares de Bolivia. Monographs in Systematic Botany from the Missouri Botanical Garden 127 (1741).

Cuellar A.M.C., Martinez M.T., Zema E.V., Ajuacho K.A.F., Klitgaard B.B., Milliken W., Araujo-Murakami A. (2015). Novedades floristicas para la flora de Bolivia. Kempffiana 11(2): 1-18.