Building a partnership of systematic excellence – a checklist of selected families of Boyacá

Creating a hard-copy publication of an annotated checklist of the Myrtaceae and Fabaceae of Boyacá, Colombia, supported by an online catalogue of specimen data.

Two people holding a giant dark green leaf


Colombia is known to be one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. Nevertheless, the current knowledge on inventory and monitoring of biodiversity and ecosystems does not fully reflect this richness, being incomplete in certain regions. Counteracting this situation, the nation-wide ‘Colombia Bio’ programme has recently been established by the Colombian government with the main aim of making sustainable economic use of Colombia’s biodiversity resources. This programme offers a unique opportunity for Kew and partner organisations in Colombia to undertake primary research on biodiversity and ecosystem services in parts of the country as yet completely unexplored. The ambition of this exploratory research is to enable long-term plans for the conservation and sustainable use of Colombia’s natural capital to be established.

Kew Science will be involved in a significant number of research projects over the next 4-5 years (from 2017) under the umbrella of the Colombia Bio programme.

The key objective of the Colombia Bio programme in the Boyacá region is to “generate specialised knowledge of biodiversity and ecosystem services as an input for the design of strategies for the management of the biodiversity of Boyacá".

This particular project supports that aim by building a close network of collaboration between Colombian and Kew botanists, who together will develop a shared understanding of the key knowledge gaps and biological questions, and the resources available to address those questions.

Sharing Kew’s expertise in neotropical plant families

The project team will be composed of Kew researchers with specialist knowledge of neotropical plant families (e.g. Urticaceae, Araceae, Passifloraceae, Euphorbiaceae, Meliaceae, and Lamiaceae), who have complementary skills in the systematics and taxonomy of two large, economically and ecologically important angiosperm families, Myrtaceae and Fabaceae.

Myrtaceae is one of the most species-diverse families of tree species in the Neotropics (c. 2,500 species), containing Myrcia (c. 700 spp) and Eugenia (c. 1,000 spp), two of the most species-rich and morphologically homogenous tree genera in the world. Until ca. 10 years ago, taxonomic disorder within these and other South American Myrtaceae genera was immense at both the genus and the species level; this gave Myrtaceae a ‘difficult’ reputation, with most species existing without a complete diagnosis. Today, that proportion is falling as a result of monographic work based on clades generated by DNA-based phylogenies often originating in Kew. Myrtaceae are highly representative of many neotropical biomes; authors have suggested that individual lineages can be used as models to study biome evolution and ecology and to provide data for conservation planning in these areas.  

Fabaceae (or Leguminosae) is the third most speciose plant family (with 19,500 species in 765 genera globally) after the Orchidaceae and Asteraceae, and arguably the second most economically important family after the Poaceae. Certainly the legumes are the most economically diverse plant family, providing human food, animal fodder, medicines, timbers, dyes, building materials, textiles, biotechnology, fertilizers, pest control, paper and pulp, as well as many species cultivated in gardens and parks. The family is also notably diverse morphologically, as well as having many species which can fix atmospheric nitrogen and thus enrich degraded soils without the cost or damage to the environment caused by chemical fertilizers. Kew has a long history of expertise in legume taxonomy going back to George Bentham in the mid-nineteenth century and Kew botanists have led the way in a series of international legume conferences and resulting publications, for example the Advances in Legume Systematics series and Legumes of the World (Lewis et al. 2015).

Judging from the under-representation of these families within the Catálogo de plantas y líquenas de Colombia (CPLC), significant knowledge gaps exist both in Colombia as a whole and in the Department of Boyacá. We predict that further field exploration and herbarium study will substantially increase the number of species recorded from the region and almost certainly discover a number of species new to science. These new records are anticipated especially from the forests of Boyacá as well as the Páramo biome.

Progress so far (September 2017):

The project was launched in June 2017 and will run until March 2018, with further follow-up activities planned.

The first key step was for two of the team to attend the Colombian Botanical Congress, in Tunja, Boyacá (30 July – 3 August 2017). The team presented Kew science, began discussions with Colombian colleagues based at the Humboldt Institute regarding joint projects, agreed upon the priorities for field expeditions and met potential students interested in being connected with Kew as part of their degree studies.

With contacts and collaborations firmly in place, the following activities are underway:

  • A one week plant identification and naming workshop in Colombia in early 2018, which will transfer Kew skills in plant identification and naming, taxonomy and nomenclature to Colombian partners.
  • Two targeted collecting trips (one upland and one lowland) with a special focus on Myrtaceae and Fabaceae. Data gathered will be added to the annotated checklist of selected plant families of Boyacá. The trips will help build local capacity in field collecting.
  • The identification of plant specimen backlogs held in the UPTC herbarium in Tunja and FMB in Villa de Leyva (and in other regional and national herbaria in Colombia if requested). Kew`s neotropical identification and naming generalists will be especially important in delivering this objective.
  • Feeding back of all verified data produced from fieldwork and identifications from plant specimen backlogs to the SIB Colombia Biodiversity Information System and the CPLC following standard data transfer protocols familiar to local counterparts. The data will be stored in Darwin Core format and made accessible to local initiatives. This will contribute to an updated and improved online Colombian catalogue of plants, and thus be fundamental to any future digitization and data-basing programmes which underpin future projects on species endemism, rarity of species, levels of conservation threat, and the effects of climate change.

From all these activities, the resulting increased network and identification and naming capacity will culminate in the joint production of an illustrated, annotated checklist of Myrtaceae and Fabaceae of Boyacá with all taxonomic specimen data and data on uses available online. Special attention will be given to species of known or potential economic use.

These baseline floristic data will be of significant stand-alone value, meeting multiple desired deliverables of the Colombia Bio programme in Boyacá and critically laying the foundations for future studies aligned even more closely to the resources available to unlock the potential of Colombian biodiversity.


To build a scientific partnership between Kew systematists specialising in the neotropics and Colombian colleagues. Our close collaboration will culminate in a shared and improved understanding of the key knowledge gaps and biological questions as well as new resources available to address those questions.

  • Annotated checklist to the Myrtaceae and Fabaceae of Boyacá, including synonyms, distribution ranges and known or potential economic uses for all species, and a preliminary assessment of threat under IUCN conservation criteria for rare and endemic species.
  • All verified specimen data produced will be fed back to the online SIB Colombia Biodiversity Information System and CPLC.
  • Building of Colombian research capacity in plant family identification (focusing on neotropical families in which Kew has specialists) and plant naming (including how to recognise, describe and publish new species and genera).

Lewis, G. Schrire, B. Mackinder B., and Lock, M. (eds.) (2005)

Legumes of the World

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

LPWG - The Legume Phylogeny Working Group. (2017)

A new subfamily classification of the Leguminosae based on a taxonomically comprehensive phylogeny

Taxon 66 (1) 44-77

Lucas, E., Wilson, C. E., Lima, D. F., Sobral, M., & Matsumoto, K. (2016)

A conspectus of Myrcia sect. Aulomyrcia (Myrtaceae)

Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden, 101(4), 648-698