Opportunities and challenges for research in systematic and evolutionary botany in Latin America
Keywords:English proficiency, floristics, impact factors, monography, parataxonomists
The floras of countries of Latin America offer research opportunities on numerous significant themes, such as: adaptation in diverse habitats, island biogeography, speciation in high mountain ecosystems, evolution in lowland tropical zones, and impact from Pleistocene glaciation. Because these biological perspectives transgress country borders, collaboration among investigators is essential. Latin America contains approximately 110,000 native vascular plant species, or 29% of the world’s flora. A more precise inventory is needed for construction of more predictive classifications and interpretation of macro- and microevolutionary processes. One solution for providing deeper inventorying would be employment of young and low-income parataxonomists on a massive scale, organized in a Cuerpo de Patrimonio Nacional within each country. Another priority is botanical monography, especially with a broad evolutionary focus. Literature accessibility and digital images of herbarium material from the Internet support monographic work more than ever before. Travel for monographic field work across borders is also most important so that relationships within entire natural plant groups can be revealed. The Internet offers opportunities for online publishing of monographs with deeper visual content and hence greater outreach for other sectors of society. Impact factors have become accepted world-wide for administrative evaluation of professional achievement, and it is recommended that strategies be adopted for maximizing their usefulness for career development. To stimulate cooperative work with scientists outside of Latin America, those within the region must become more proficient in English, including giving talks in this language at international meetings. English proficiency allows digestion of the international literature and opens doors to asking fundamental biological, rather than just regional, questions.
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