Colombia is located in the northwest corner of South America, bordered to the north and west by two oceans. A privileged position where the unique climatic conditions and the complex regional topography of the Andes has created an incredible vortex of evolutionary history. Here converge a diversity of lowland/highland ecosystems and innumerable forms of life filling them. No less than ≈70,000 species have been reported in Colombia among vascular plants, vertebrates, two orders of insects and four marine groups (i.e. sponges, corals, molluscs and crustaceans). This very incomplete knowledge of a few groups suggests that total biodiversity within terrestrial and marine territories of Colombia may be an order of magnitude higher than the best estimations we may have available at present time. This megadiversity is condensed in a territory of just over 1.1 million km2, which is approximately 7.5 times smaller than another widely recognised megadiverse country such as Brasil.
This fantastic natural heritage faces severe challenges as consequence of human activities. Deforestation and fragmentation of forests, agricultural and cattle breeding expansion, pollution, exotic species and climate change constitute the main threats to biodiversity. Additionally, the big vacuums of knowledge in relation to biodiversity increases greatly the risk of extinction to many species.
The country occupies the first place in the world in avian diversity, with more than 1,900 species and 3,000 subspecies. Nevertheless, nearly 6% of the species of the country are threatened with imminent extinction as consequence of human activities.
several initiatives in recent years have aimed to increase knowledge of biodiversity and made this knowledge available freely in the Internet. The Global Information Biodiversity Facility (GBIF) is possibly the biggest of these type of initiatives, giving access through its Internet portal to more than 500 million biological records that represent about 1.5 million of species inhabiting our planet. In the case of Colombia, the GBIF portal connects to more than 3 million biological records. Likewise, in Colombia the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for the Research of Biological Resources (IAvH) through its Colombian Biodiversity Information System (SIB) offers access to nearly 2 million biological records that represent about 49,000 species. Other initiatives, directed only to the class Aves, are EBIRD, DatAves and BioMap. EBIRD, launched by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, is a worldwide initiative. Nevertheless, most of its data is represented by records originating in the United States. In the case of Colombia, this initiative gives access to 11,551 checklists that represents 1,618 species occurring in the country. DatAves originated from an old database of ornithological observations held during nearly 20 or more years by the Antioquia's Ornithological Society, and has been developed actively during the last ten years growing into a dataset of nearly 400,000 records gathered from observations and checklists from the literature. Finally, project BioMap was an initiative funded by the Darwin Initiative an several Colombian and US institutions which aimed to repatriate information on Colombian bird specimens held in natural history museums around the world. This last initiative have made available about 220,000 records on Colombian bird specimens that represent 1,815 species found in the country.
Despite these efforts, this freely available information has many challenges and limitations to be fully used and still continue to exist many gaps in knowledge for many species. Consistency in the information in many instances is flawed or incomplete, while many records do not have georeferencing, and when they have many have relatively low accuracy. However, these kind of limitations and errors are expected to be increasingly less prevalent as we gather better knowledge of species and new technologies such as Global Positioning Systems are used widely to locate new biological records. On the other hand, despite bird taxa are some of the best known worldwide, in Colombia still many new taxa for science continue to be described, while many other species have continued to be added to the checklist of the country and/or confirmed during the last two decades.
The Atlas of the Birds of Colombia aims to make use of some of those initiatives to map the distribution and abundance of avian taxa in Colombia to delineate research and conservation priorities in the country. We have three specific long term objectives: first, to map the distribution of avian subspecies in Colombia to identify centres of bird diversity at subspecies level in the country and potential areas of contact or intergradation. Second, to prioritise research needs in taxonomy and distribution for avian taxa in the country. Finally, third, to produce as many as possible case studies in the country of avian species abundance, effects of fragmentation in bird diversity at different scales and distributional expansion following deforestation. These objectives will continue to be developed in three main phases, which are not exclusive: first, a whole revision of the checklist of the birds of the country have been conducted during the last year at subspecies level updating taxonomic treatments and geographical distributions. Second, we will conduct the mapping of all subspecies of avian taxa extant in Colombia. Third, we will elaborate case studies in abundance, fragmentation-diversity and deforestation-range expansions.