Coming back to my home country as formed scientist got me thinking about what kind of science I can use to positively impact my country. This is why after few months of understanding back what was needed I decided to focus the general theme of my research on finding solutions to the modern challenges that afflict agriculture and the loss of biodiversity in Colombia. I came back to Colombia right when negotiations with leftist groups were finishing a new era was starting to opening for my country. This new phase in our history should consider our great biodiversity. My line of research aims to integrate contributions from communities, undergraduate and graduate students and collaborations with other researchers and institutions in Latin America, the United States and Europe.
The main goal of my research is to understand the diversity and evolution of tropical plants. I am particularly interested in evolutionary processes and patterns that have given rise to the diversity of Colombian emblematic plants such orchids. My research integrates multiple disciplines such as systematics, phylogenomics, transcriptomics, developmental biology and natural history. I use tools from these fields to test hypotheses about morphological evolution and biogeography.
The tropical Andes are a global biodiversity hotspot intended to undergo the most pronounced effects of global warming compared to any other mountain ecosystem worldwide. The area covers less than one percent of the Earth's surface, but holds one sixth of the planet's total plant diversity. The Colombian Andean region has not only the highest number of orchid species (2,542 spp., 77% of the species registered for Colombia) and the largest number of endemic species (944 spp., 78% of the endemic species recorded for Colombia) but also the highest number of threatened species (151 spp., 76% of the threatened species recorded for Colombia).
Orchid research in Colombia has focused mainly on taxonomic work of particular groups, species lists, conservation techniques, propagation of horticulturally important species and ecological studies. However, there has been little effort to understand their genetic diversity, evolution and the extraordinary species diversity and endemism of orchids in the Northern Andes. In the country, private collectors who are members of associations, societies and foundations are those who have promoted knowledge about orchids. Recently the Colombian orchid conservation plan has been published. This plan outlines the main guidelines for future studies and regulations for the conservation and sustainable use of orchids in the country. My research combines the knowledge, impressive orchid private collections and expertise from such collectors with disciplines across different biological scales including novel molecular sequencing techniques, phylogenetic studies, population genetics, and conservation to explore for first time the molecular diversity of the main groups of endemic orchids of the Colombian Andes.
- Evolution and biodiversity of Colombian orchids: The present research line aims to deepen the knowledge of orchid genera representative of the Colombian Andes, from studies of classical systematics, molecular biology, phylogenomics and bioinformatics. The data obtained will have the purpose of understanding the tropical diversity of endemic orchids and exploring genetic resources to promote their conservation. Additionally, I want to elucidate speciation mechanisms and patterns for orchids of the northern Colombian Andes.
Recently we have started a project on phylogenomics and biogeography of Lepanthes (Pleurothallidinae: Orquidaceae): The geographic complexity of Colombia and its privileged location throughout the tropics has led to the formation of a high diversity of favorable habitats for orchids. Regarding Lepanthes, new species are constantly being found and described, but little is known about their natural history and how they are responding to accelerating changes that are occurring in Colombian territory. With this project, we intend to clarify the phylogenetic and biogeographic relationships between the representative species of the Lepanthes major clades, which may lead to an understanding of the high diversity present in this group and generate hypotheses about its evolution.
- Molecular Characterization of Colombian Genetic Resources and flagship species: The goal of this research area is the molecular characterization of genetic resources of tropical plant species, focusing mostly in Colombian orphan crops and emblematic species. I aim to search for molecular markers that allow the identification of species, varieties or horticultural breeds of interest for agriculture, as a first step for breeding and genetic improvement. Also this characterization can be used as first approximation to understand the genetic diversity and population genomics of emblematic species of Colombia. I use novel genomic techniques in order to understand population genetic aspects of these species. Currently we are developing a molecular characterization of coconut (Cocos nucifera) cultivars in the main productive areas of Colombia by recovering SNPs using genotyping by sequencing (GBS). We are also working on population genomics aspects of the Colombian national tree, the waxpalm (Ceroxylon quindiuense). I have also involved undergraduate students in a project about genetic diversity of a vulnerable orchid species: Masdevallia hortensis.
Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín, Colombia, Biology, B.S., 2001
University of Tennessee, USA Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, M.S., 2007
University of Missouri, USA, Biological Sciences, Ph.D., 2012
The University of Hong Kong, Evolutionary Biology, Postdoc, 2013-2014
The University of Washington, USA, Scientific visitor, 2014
The Earlham Institute, UK, Scientific visitor 2017
2016-Present Biodiversity research coordinator, Corporation for biological research, Medellin, Colombia
2015-2016 Associate Researcher, Colombian Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, Manizales, Colombia
Serna, A., J. Arcila, T. Arias. 2018. ¿Por qué estudiar las orquídeas desde la biología molecular? Tres casos que le interesarían a cualquier orquideólogo. Orquideologia. 35 (1): 120-133.
Arias, T. 2017. Inventario preliminar de las orquídeas de la reserva biológica de la Sociedad Colombiana de Orquideología y perspectivas para el desarrollo de un programa de investigación enfocado a la conservación. Orquideologia. 34 (2): 235-246.
Arias, T. 2017.Masdevallia hortensis Luer & R. Escobar. Orquideologia. 34 (2):165.
Zhi-Yan D., T. Arias, W. Meng, and M.-L. Chye. 2016. Plant acyl-CoA-binding proteins: an emerging family involved in plant development and stress responses. Progress in Lipids Research. 63:165–181 doi: 10.1016/j.plipres. 2016.06.002 . IF:11.2
Henriquez C L, T. Arias, J. C. Pires, T. B. Croat, B. A. Schaal. 2014. Phylogenomics of the plant family
Araceae. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 75: 91-102. IF:4.0
Arias T., M. Beilstein, M. Tang, M. R. McKain, J. C. Pires. 2014. Diversification times among Brassic crops suggest hybrid formation after twenty million years of divergence. American Journal of Botany 101:86-91. IF: 2.5
Mayfield D., J. D Washburn, T. Arias , P. Edger, C. Pires, G. C. Conant. 2013. Watching the grin fade: How polyploidy can illuminate cell biology. Seminars in Cell and Developmental Biology 24: 320-331. IF: 5.9
Arias T. and J. C. Pires. 2012. A fully resolved and dated chloroplast phylogeny of the brassica crops and wild relatives (Brassiceae: Brassicaceae): Novel clades and taxonomic implications. TAXON: 61 (5) • October 2012: 980–988. IF:2.4
Arias T. and J. H. Williams. 2008. Embryology of Manekia naranjoana (Piperaceae) and the origin of tetrasporic, sixteen-nucleate female gametophytes in Piperales. American Journal of Botany 95(3): 1-16. IF: 3.1
Arias T., R. Callejas & A. Bornstein. 2006. New Combinations in Manekia, an earlier name for Sarcorhachis (Piperaceae). NOVON 16(2): 205-208. IF:0.2
Arias T., 2003. Architectural analysis of Vismia baccifera (roots and shoots) and Vismia macrophylla (roots) Clusiaceae. CALDASIA 26(2): 333-358. IF: 0.3
What made you want to join ICCS as a Biodiversity fellow?
I have a strong background in science but coming back to my home country I have realized I have not skills to work with communities promoting conservation within the ecosystems I work on. I think it is fundamental for me to understand the basics of community work to effectively apply research results. Colombia is a highly biodiverse country and we are entering a unique stage in our history. As scientist I feel I don’t have the enough tools to positively impact communities around the country. I want to learn to effectively interact with fellows working in other areas of knowledge.
Is there a specific project you will be working on while you are with ICCS? Can you tell us a little about it?
We are implementing a research to preserve orchids of the Colombian Andes and their ecosystems by involving local communities in creating in-situ and ex-situ conservation strategies and by offering them an alternative mode of subsistence through eco-tourism, and legal orchid cultivation and commerce. This initiative is promoting outreach and allowing to collect, cure, and analyze information for many orchid species in order to promote conservation and sustainable use as established in the Colombia orchid conservation strategy.