Project BioMap: the homestretch
After two and a half years of hard work, Project BioMap is reaching the end of its first phase. Past editorials have stressed the importance of museums, of scientific collecting and of joint efforts for conservation. The time has come to think about the importance and future use of the data compiled.
By the end of the project we calculate the Darwin database will have data for over 230,000 Colombian specimens in museums around the world with more than 25,000 person-hours of work invested. This task has been completed in a very professional and meticulous way and data are now being checked and rechecked to assure the highest quality possible. Almost all the information has been compiled in a single database, rather than dispersed among many countries and institutions with obvious difficulties for access. Time fast approaches for this information to be made available and used. The first outcome of the project will be this innovative experience of sharing and making public all this information. Without doubt we have learnt much about database management, data request and use and access of data stored in collections. This learning process surely will cross cultures and country boundaries since this is one of the first experiences of this type in Latin America and has aroused great interest among scientists and curators in other Latin American countries that surely will soon develop similar projects.
The potential applications of the data gathered are very diverse, from obtaining documented lists for specific localities, municipalities or departments, to the support of important conservation initiatives. We will analyze the history of bird collectors in Colombia, how many specimens where collected by each one and in which museums they are deposited. We will also have a very good idea about the amount of specimens collected for each species of Colombian bird, their origins and where they are deposited. With data from localities combined with knowledge about the ecology of each species and present distribution of appropriate habitats, we can model the distributions of each species and subspecies; a powerful tool in conservation biology. This approach was used in a very interesting way in the Red Book of Colombia’s Threatened Birds (Libro Rojo de Aves de Colombia) to add precision to the category of threat for 112 threatened bird species in the country. One of the current uses of information contained in museum specimens is that of prioritizing conservation areas. With information on the distribution of key species (p.e. endangered or range restricted) areas of special interest for conservation may be identified. Based on these principles BirdLife International, an international partnership of bird conservation organizations, has developed research on Endemic Bird Areas (EBAs) and identifying and protecting the most Important Bird Areas (IBAs) on the planet. The general scope of the IBA program is not only the conservation of birds but of biodiversity, based on the premise that birds are good indicators for biodiversity conservation. Birds have the advantage of being relatively well known in terms of distribution, threats and requirements.
The BioMap information will be of great use in the identification of these important areas and their conservation.
November – December 2003: Systematization of 5,456 Colombian specimens from Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County -LACM.
December 2003 – January 2004: Systematization of 4,037 skins from the Instituto Vallecaucano de Investigaciones Científicas INCIVA in Cali (Scientific Research Institute of Valle del Cauca).
January 2004: Systematization of 2348 Colombian specimens in the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology – WFVZ in California.
January 2004: Systematization of 32 Colombian specimens from San Diego Natural History Museum – SDNHM.
January 2004: New Colombian coordinator – Loreta Rosselli – takes over.
January – May 2004: Revision and correction of Darwin Database (taxonomy, collectors, localities and general tables).
February 2004: Systematization of 5,014 skins from the Natural History Museum of the Universidad del Cauca.
March 2004: Systematization of 72 specimens from Universidad de Nariño.
March 2004: Seventy-three records from Museum “Madre Caridad Brader” of the School of Franciscan sisters in Pasto, Nariño.
March 2004: Systematization of 38 skins from of the Champagnat Institute, Pasto.
April 2004: Systematization of 790 specimens from the collection of the Natural History Museum of the Universidad de Caldas.
April 2004: Systematization of 51 specimens from the La Salle del Museum, Colegio de La Salle, Cúcuta
April 2004: Twenty-six entries from San José de Guanentá School, San Gil, Santander.
April 2004: 1448 entries from Universidad Industrial de Santander, Bucaramanga.
May 2004: Beginning of georreferentiation of localities of birds collected in Colombia.
May 2004: Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá 477 specimens were entered in the database.
News From Europe
BioMap work was completed in Europe with the systematization of Colombian specimens from all collections by our European cataloguer – Nigel Cleere.
Juan Carlos Verhelst and Clara Isabel Bohórquez continue with their Master’s degree studies in King’s College, London, UK. They attended classes between January and May and since then commenced their graduate projects which they hope to finish by September. They took courses on Environmental Management, Environmental GIS and Remote Sensing. They are helping with georreferentiation.
News from Colombia
New national coordinator: Beginning January, Loreta Rosselli took over as new Colombian coordinator for Project BioMap. Loreta is a biologist graduated from the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, with a Masters degree in ornithology from the Universidad de Costa Rica and has worked in different ornithology topics. She will replace Sussy De La Zerda who has moved to San Diego, California. We thank Sussy for her great work and wish her all the best.
New Director in the Instituto de Ciencias Naturales, Universidad Nacional de Colombia: Gloria Galeano became the new director of the Instituto de Ciencias Naturales, a principal partner of the BioMap Alliance in replacement of Gonzalo Andrade. Several meetings have taken place to inform her of progress and planning.
On February 12 Andrea Morales, Diana Arzuza and Loreta Rosselli attended a workshop on georreferentiation with Roberto Jaramillo from the GIS department in Conservation International (CI) to resolve questions on the methodology that will be used in assigning geographical coordinates to localities.
Andrea Morales gave talks on the importance and management of biological collections and Project BioMap in the Universidad del Cauca, Universidad de Nariño and Universidad Industrial de Santander.
Andrea Morales and Paula Maldonado (biologist from Javeriana University who entered data from Colombian museums during the first semester of 2004) visited Valle del Cauca, Cauca, Nariño, Caldas and Santander departments.
Collections from INCIVA and the Universidad del Cauca belong to the group that hold more than 4,000 specimens and are very interesting for their regional coverage. They have skins of well-known collectors such as F. Carlos Lehmann and K. von Sneidern.
In Pasto, San Gil and Cúcuta the collections are composed exclusively of specimens mounted for exhibition with little data. The skins date from 1940 and have been collected and mounted by members of religious orders. The specimens are frequently highly toxic since arsenic was used in their preparation at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Collections belonging to public universities (University of Nariño, University of Caldas and University of Industrial de Santander) have specimens with complete data that are unique in their regions and not found in other institutions. These collections are growing and are focused on the local avifaunas.
On May 3 the georreferencing process for localities of the records in BioMap began at high speed. Ecologists Ana Milena Piñeros and Angélica Pérez are helping us in this arduous labor, with support by database expert Juan Carlos Rodríguez from Conservation International Colombia. The first step in this task has been the standardization of locality names and search for geographical coordinates already available for these localities. Afterwards we will proceed to look for coordinates for localities for which no such data exist.
In collaboration with Mauricio Alvarez and Sergio Córdoba from the Alexander von Humboldt Biological Resources Research Institute a digitalized version of historic, out-of-print works on distribution and taxonomy of Neotropical birds is almost ready to be distributed among Colombian collections.
News From North America
Sussy De La Zerda finished her visit to various California collections. In the Los Angeles County Museum 5457 records from Colombia in the Museum’s database. She checked 1053 specimens for additional details. Most skins are from the 50´s and 60´s, they belong to 58 families and cover most of the country with an emphasis from Cauca and Nariño departments. Most birds where collected by M.A. Carriker. Kimball Garrett, administrator of the collection collaborated enormously. Leah and Alejandro Gedeon kindly offered accommodation. From June Colombian biologist Sylvia Heredia will collaborate as a volunteer with Project BioMap finishing the revision of specimens in LACM.
In Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology (WFVZ) holds 2,348 specimens of Colombian birds mostly collected by M.A. Carriker and C.J. Marinkelle in the 60´s. The collection director is Linnea Hall, the collection administrator is Rene Colorado, and the administrative director is Sonia Keirans.
In San Diego Natural History Museum (SDNHM) we found 34 skins collected by J.M. Scott and other five people in Valle del Cauca. Some specimens come from animals kept in the San Diego Zoo. Collection curator and administrator: Philip Unit.
In Berkeley curator Carla Cicero and John Dumbacher and Douglas Long, curator and director at the California Academy of Sciences kindly collaborated in our visits. In Berkeley Juan Luis Parra provided accommodation.
During this period the BioMap family grew! We welcome the arrival of Tamar Guberek-De La Zerda born to Sussy De La Zerda, former Colombian coordinator, and Thomas Devenish-Arzuza born to Diana Arzuza, Colombian Cataloguer. Congratulations!
The BioMap team wishes to thank all directors, curators and assistants in all the collections visited as well as the directives and administrative personnel of the different institutions for their wonderful collaboration and hospitality. Numerous persons and institutions supported us with accommodations in different cities across the world! The constant help and support of the staff in Conservación Internacional Colombia and the Instituto de Ciencias Naturales of Universidad Nacional de Colombia has been essential through all this process. Many thanks to all!
Activities to be completed over the coming months are:
• Geo-reference all localities of ever specimen.
• Meticulously truth all data in the Darwin database.
• Commence data analysis.
• Organize the national workshop to prioritize conservation and research actions for the future based on information gathered by BioMap.
Gloria Galeano – Instituto de Ciencias Naturales, Universidad Nacional de Colombia
Robert Prys-Jones (chair) – The Natural History Museum.
Jose Vicente Rodriguez – Conservation International – Colombia
Alvaro Espinel – Conservation International – Center for Applied Biodiversity Science, USA