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Pictures of preservation

Berlin exhibition shows the wealth of Brazilian biodiversity, as registered by FAPESP projects

Reproduction from the book Flora brasiliensis by Carl Friederich Phillip von Martius Flooded forest in the State of Pará, drawn by Von Martius, and a similar scene…Reproduction from the book Flora brasiliensis by Carl Friederich Phillip von Martius

The Museum of the Botanical Gardens in Berlin will host an unusual exhibition on Brazilian biodiversity. The exhibition, which will stay open until September 14, is based on data and images resulting from three projects funded by FAPESP: Flora brasiliensis on-line; Phanerogamic flora of the State of São Paulo; and Biota-FAPESP. The exhibition, the title of which is Brazilian nature: mystery and destiny, is comprised of panels with reproductions of images, illustrations and explanatory texts. “A special focus of the exhibition is to show that Brazil is aware of its biodiversity; this awareness is illustrated by means of well organized and well prepared research programs,” said Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, scientific director of FAPESP.

The 37 panels of the exhibition, scheduled to open on June 4, are spread throughout the third floor of the German museum and along the four stairwells that provide access to the third floor. The explanatory texts are all in English, because the idea is for this to be a traveling exhibition; however, a German language catalogue will be available. The content was compiled with the help of representatives of the three projects. Two years ago, Flora brasiliensis on-line provided the broadest and most comprehensive survey of Brazilian flora available on the internet at: This project is represented at the exhibition by a selection of images of species and landscapes, most of which were produced in the nineteenth century. The collection, comprising 3,840 plates and 10,207 pages with texts describing most of the 23 thousand species, was prepared under the direction of botanist Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius (1794-1868). In addition, the Flora brasiliensis on-line project takes into account an update of the names of the species and more recent information.

Volker Bittrich …on the outskirts of ManausVolker Bittrich

Each drawing shown at the exhibition has an updated photograph of the species or ecosystems portrayed in the drawing, the objective of which is to show that much of what Von Martius saw during his ten thousand kilometer trip through the Mata Atlântica rain forest, the Caatinga and Cerrado ecosystems and the Amazon Rain Forest can still be seen today. The production or research of new images was the responsibility of the team headed by Maria do Carmo Amaral, from the Flora brasiliensis on-line project. In addition to FAPESP sponsorship, the project was also sponsored by the Vitae foundation and by Natura, a cosmetics company.

The Phanerogamic flora project began in 1993, with the participation of more than 200 researchers, who described approximately two thousand flowering species that make up part of the native plants found in the State of São Paulo. Of these, at least 20 had not been identified previously. Estimates are that São Paulo State’s ecosystem has 7.5 thousand species of this kind. The survey has already resulted in the publication of five volumes with illustrations and information on plants of all kinds found in the State of São Paulo. Another ten volumes will be published in the forthcoming years. The images shown in the exhibition were compiled under the coordination of professor George Shepherd, from the Biology Institute of Unicamp, who is also the assistant coordinator of the Phanerogamic flora program in the State of São Paulo.

Volker Bittrich Type of Melocactus photographed in Bahia…Volker Bittrich

Ever since it was created in 1999, the Biota-FAPESP program has described more than 500 plant and animal species found in the 250 thousand square kilometers of the State of São Paulo. The program also produced 75 research projects, 150 master’s degrees, a 90 PhDs, 500 articles published in 170 periodicals, 16 books, and two atlases. Recently, the scientific data was transformed into maps, which are being used to guide the criteria for the preservation of native plant species found in the State of São Paulo. The images were selected by botanist Carlos Joly, a professor at the State University of Campinas, who for a number of years was the coordinator of the Biota-FAPESP program. “The Berlin Museum has various Brazilian species, and is a reference for us,” says Joly. “Whenever we conduct a taxonomic review, we normally travel to Berlin to evaluate that collection. This is why it is especially important for us to hold the exhibition there and to show German researchers that we conduct first-rate research,” he says.

The choice of the exhibition’s name is self-explanatory. “Mystery, because there is still so much to be discovered in Brazilian biodiversity, unlike the situation in Europe, where no new species have been identified in a long time,” says journalist Maria da Graça Mascarenhas, manager of communications at FAPESP and the curator of the exhibition. “This is destiny – taking care of this heritage is up to us,” she adds.

Reproduction from the book Flora brasiliensis by Carl Friederich Phillip von Martius …and a similar plant described in the nineteenth centuryReproduction from the book Flora brasiliensis by Carl Friederich Phillip von Martius

Luiz Felipe de Seixas Corrêa, Brazilian ambassador to Berlin, highlights the importance of the exhibition. “At a time when there is growing debate in Europe on biofuels and the risks that this poses for agricultural boundaries, FAPESP gives us this extremely valuable opportunity to show how serious we are about environmental preservation, by bringing clear examples from the past and the present and what the future will be like,” says the diplomat, who visited the main FAPESP office on May 16. “In addition to having an impact from the point of view of our image in Germany, the exhibition is taking place at a very special point in time, when the issue of biodiversity is at the forefront of discussions by the international community,” said Seixas Corrêa, referring to the 9th Conference of the Signatory States of the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 9), held in Bonn from May 19 to May 30. The previous meeting – COP 8 – was held in Curitiba in 2006.

In fact, the history of the exhibition goes back to the conference in Curitiba, when an event organized by FAPESP showed the results of the digital work done on the Flora brasiliensis collection. The results were seen by researchers from all over the world who were attending the conference. Last year, Wanderley Canhos, director-president of the Environmental Information Reference Center (CRIE), the entity responsible for organizing the project’s data base, was contacted by German researchers who were interested in taking an exhibition with the drawings of Von Martius to Germany. FAPESP suggested that the scope of the exhibition be expanded to include images of other major projects in the field of biodiversity, such as the flower species in the State of São Paulo and the Biota project, in addition to the collection of the Flora brasiliensis project. A team from the Foundation then began to work on the organization of the exhibition.

miguel boyayan The muriqui (Brachyteles arachnoides), a monkey from the Atlantic Seaboard Forest (Mata Atlântica)miguel boyayan

The organizers had to deal with a number of difficulties to prepare the panels. For example, they had to obtain permission to use the images signed by the authors of all the photographs that would be shown, because otherwise Brazil’s National Historical and Artistic Heritage Institute would not allow the panels to be sent to Germany. “We had a problem, for example, when we wanted to include images shown at previous exhibitions. Some photographs had been provided by our teams, but nobody at that point knew who the photographer was,” recalls botanist Carlos Joly. “The solution was to replace them with other images,” he states.