Wonderful world of lupins

by Victoria Cabrera

We classify things on a regular basis, we do it constantly and unconsciously; it is a way that allows our brains to understand the surroundings and how to interact with it. Even from our very beginnings as humans we needed to put in categories the resources that we had available in order to survive, for example, we learned to identify certain plants as edible and differentiate them from others that were toxic. This practice of classifying things is called taxonomy. Why is it important? Well, in order to understand how biodiversity came about and what can we do to protect it we need to know first what we have, and we know it in part thank to the work of taxonomists. They are the ones that study a group of organisms in depth and set the criteria for their differentiation. Despite being a central field in Biology, it seems that Taxonomy has lost popularity over the years, and taxonomists have become themselves an “endangered species”. In order to increase the awareness about the importance of this guild and their contribution, and to make people have an idea about how interesting and exciting this practice could be, I have organised an activity (science busk) in which people could exercise themselves as taxonomists for a few minutes, using a fascinating and taxonomically-challenging group as is Lupinus, a plant genus within the bean family.

During this activity visitors will:

1-. Practice detailed observation of a material for an exercise using 4 dummy specimens I built to illustrate some of the morphological diversity of the genus.

2-. Get familiar with the concept of diagnostic characters.

3-. Learn how to use a taxonomic key and are briefly instructed on the principles of the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi and plants.

4-. Are acquainted with field work and the processing of the collected material afterwards.

5-. Group real Lupinus specimens into species and go in depth in the challenges of their classification.

By doing this activity people will get a glimpse of what I am actually doing as part of my PhD Project, which consists in doing a taxonomic account for the genus in Venezuela. For this I have done almost 3 months of field work in the Venezuelan Andes, where I walked Paramos (alpine tundra) from 3000 to 4900 m. I also did herbarium work and documented hundreds of specimens for study…

I am looking forward to tell you more about taxonomy and my project in the next event!