The montane forests of northern Bolivia are biologically very diverse. These forests harbor an estimated 12,000 species of plants, or 60% of the Bolivian flora. Bolivia is botanically under explored and we will conduct extensive plant collecting within its montane forests in order to produce a checklist of all higher plant species occurring there. Identification keys to all the families and genera of plants represented by these species will be developed. Twelve U.S. and 16 Bolivian students will be trained during the study. Sixteen sites will be inventoried and compared to determine the change in plant species composition. This information will be related to geographical distance or ecological distance measurements.

About 21,000 plant collections will be made. Each collection, or voucher specimen, should last at least 300 years in herbaria throughout the world and during that time it will likely be used in hundreds of studies to better understand plants. The information contained in voucher specimens has increased in value in recent years. These specimens are now an important source of baseline information for conservation planning, distribution and diversity modeling, and global warming studies. The project will provide the first internet identification key to families and genera for any area of Bolivia and will have value beyond the study area. The dried plant material collected specifically for DNA analysis will be helpful in studies aimed at understanding the evolutionary history of plants. The expanded knowledge of how diversity is partitioned will be essential in conservation planning beyond the boarders of Bolivia. The training of U.S. and Bolivian botanists will have a broad and long lasting impact as these students are employed in fields of science, teaching, and environmental protection.

Project Report

" had three main areas of activity: 1) gain insight into the biodiversity of a remote and poorly explored area in northern Bolivia, 2) estimate the turnover rate of species along geographic and environmental gradients, and 3) educate US and Bolivian students. The project has accumulated information and vouchers that document that the study area contains approximately 12,000 species of mosses and vascular plants, based on a total of 80,000 plant collections. 240 species turned out to be new to Bolivia, and 158 were new species to science. We have developed an interactive tool on the Internet to the identification of the plant families found in the study area and are in the process of expanding that to also include the approximately 2,100 genera. We find that the turnover rates of tress in the study area are the highest around 1500 m elevation. This means that forests found both below and above 1500 m elevation are more similar compared within elevational belts. Or said differently, each forest in and around 1500 m elevation is more unique, and therefore merit particular consideration and protection, as some of its elements and the fact that they grow together is not replicated. This insight has profound consequences for conservation and conservation planning. Six US granduate students and 16 Bolivian granduate students received scholarships and support for their thesis work though this study. The results from their work and the impact of their work are varied and broad; from taxonomic revisions and anatomy to ecological studies of herbivory, composition, and forest structure. The project has been successful in meeting the goals and answering the questions. The impact of the collected material, information and education of students will stretch far beyond the core project.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Environmental Biology (DEB)
Application #
Program Officer
Robb Brumfield
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Missouri Botanical Garden
Saint Louis
United States
Zip Code