RBGE Colombia Research

For up to date information on research and outreach activites visit rbgecolombia.wordpress.com. Colombia is one of the most biodiverse countries on earth. Practically every kind of ecosystem can be found within its borders. Our Colombian research program aims to determine how historical processes have affected diversification in those ecosystems. This work is being conducted in collaboration with researchers at the University of the Andes (Santiago Madriñán) and the District University (Rocio Cortes). An article discussing the initiation of the research program was published in the winter 2009 issue of The Botanics magazine and an update in summer 2013.


The Páramo ecosystem may be considered a hotspot within a hotspot, as it is located within that of the Tropical Andes. The ecosystem harbours about 3700 species (approximately 90% of which are endemic). These ecosystems are essentially the water towers of Colombia being the source of water for the countries major cities. A Conservation International video highlights the importance of the ecosystem resources that Páramo provides. Together with researchers at the University of the Andes in Bogotá, we are investigating the evolution and conservation of the plants that inhabit this ecosystem.

Chingaza National Park, Cundinamarca (photo Santiago Madriñán)

Lowland Rain Forest

Lowland rain forests in Colombia are located in Amazonia in the east of the country and in the lowlands of the Pacific Coast to the west of the Andes. We are investigating how geological events such as the uplift of the Andes have affected the evolution of a model lowland family of flowering plants, Sapotaceae.

Los Cerros de Mavicure, Rio Inírida, Guainía (photo Santiago Madriñán)

Cloud forest

Cloud forests are montane moist forest characterized by a persistent, frequent or seasonal low-level cloud cover. Colombia has one of the largest areas of cloud forests and we are developing projects on Renealmia (Zingiberaceae), Begonia and Gesneriaceae that will study the evolution of these groups in cloud and lowland rain forests.

Reserva Natural Rio Nambi, Nariño (photo Santiago Madriñán)

Festival Colombiano

Twenty eleven saw the first of what have been a series of annual events that celebrate the cultural and biological diversity of Colombia under the banner Festival Colombiano. The weekends events are co-organized by Suzanne Harris (RBGE Education Projects Officer) and feature talks that showcase the diversity of ecosystems in Colombia that are accompanied by musical performances from each region by Khantara, a Colombian group based in Bristol who also run The Tambora Foundation dedicated to preserving ancestral arts and knowledge for children in Colombia. The weekends also feature dance workshops, jewellery making and storytelling and a Colombian menu at the John Hope Gateway restaurant.


We are working with Cromatophoro, a Bogotá based film company (cromatophoro.org), whose first major production was premiered in the Filmhouse Theatre in Edinburgh on the 30th of October 2011. The film documents the way of life of the Embera, one of the original nations of the New World, and how this way of life is threatened by exposure to western influences. The documentary was supported by the British Council in Colombia, the Colombian Embassy in London and the RBGE Sibbald Trust. The film has also been shown in Berlin, Bogotá and Medellin. A trailer for the documentary can be seen here and the Filmhouse website here.

Embera mother and child (photo Cromatophoro)


In August 2013 we screened the UK premier of Apaporis, a documentary that retraced the travels of celebrated ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes documenting ancient myths and secrets of indigenous Amazonians and showcasing the immense botanical knowledge that they have accumulated over the centuries that they have occupied the forests.

The Maloca Project

Together with Ann Simpson at the University of Strathclyde and Andres Corredor of the District University in Bogotá we are working on the research legacy of Colombian anthropologist Blanca de Corredor. We are developing plans for an interactive exhibition that will document the way of life of indigenous groups in Colombian Amazonia highlighting the importance of the Maloca as a centre for community development.

Maloca: Cacique Eduardo Baki, Muinane, Villa Azul, Caquetá (photo Ann Simpson)

At the 2011 Edinburgh Science Festival we organized a live video connection from RBGE to the National University Leticia site in Colombian Amazonia. This featured an interview with a representative from the Yukuna and Andoke communities and Ann Simpson who demonstrated the medicinal uses for a selection of Amazonian plants.

You can see a video taken in Amazonas and Caqueta here and another that was made with the National University (Leticia site) here.

Shared Responsibility

We have been working with Police Scotland to educate Scottish schoolchildren and young adults of the environmental and social consequences of illicit coca cultivation in Colombia.


We have a number of students working on projects in or related to Colombia. If you are interested in applying for studentships to work in this research group then please contact James Richardson.

Maria Camila Gomez Gutierrez (2010-2013). Evolution of Páramo. Co-supervisors: Richard Milne (University of Edinburgh), Toby Pennington (RBGE) and Santiago Madriñán (Universidad de Los Andes).

Eugenio Valderrama Escallón (2011-2014). Diversification rates in Renealmia (Zingiberaceae). Co-supervisor: Graham Stone (University of Edinburgh) and Santiago Madriñán (Universidad de Los Andes).

Ariadna Mondragon (2011). Biogeography of Sapotaceae in Colombia - effects of Andean uplift on a predominantly lowland tropical group. Co-supervisor: Santiago Madriñán (Universidad de Los Andes).

Ana Maria Aldana (2011-2017). This project aims to determine how ecosystem diversity and differing disturbance regimes affect services, such as carbon storage, flood resistance and production of goods. Co-supervised by Pablo Stevenson and Mailyn Gonzalez (Universidad de Los Andes).

Adolfo Jara Muñoz (2011-2017). Systematics and biogeography of Colombian Begonia. Co-supervisor: Santiago Madriñán (Universidad de Los Andes).

Julieth Serrano (2011). Historical biogeography of Colombian Sapotaceae. Co-supervisor: Julie Hawkins (University of Reading).

Dayana Sanchez (2011-2012). DNA barcoding of Micropholis (Sapotaceae). Co-supervisor: Rocio Cortes (Universidad Distrital).

Paola Piñeros (2011-2012). Taxonomic conspectus of the genus Micropholis (Sapotaceae). Co-supervisor: Rocio Cortes (Universidad Distrital).

Alan Elliot (2011-2012). Spatio-temporal distribution of Sapotaceae in Colombia. Supervisors: Colin Pendry, Greg Kenicer (RBGE), Richard Milne (University of Edinburgh).

Javier Luna Castro (2012-2015). Biogeography and Floral Morphology of Gesneriaceae. Co-supervisors: Catherine Kidner (RBGE and University of Edinburgh) and Michael Moeller (RBGE).

Karina Banda (2012-2015). Colombian dry forests. Supervisors: Toby Pennington (RBGE) and Kyle Dexter (RBGE).

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