|Natalia Contreras Ortiz
Tropical Diversity at RBGE
The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh RBGE and University of Edinburgh
Twitter Handle: @NaCortiz
Natalia is a tropical botanist and is passionate about the huge biodiversity one can find in the American tropics. Even though her memory is not quite so good as to recognize all the species, she gets really excited about trying to understand the drivers of diversification, the evolution and the patterns of variation we see today in the Neotropical plant species. During her M.Sc., she studied the diversification patterns and morphological variation in tropical high-elevation or páramo flora, specifically the genus Lupinus in the Colombian páramos. Natalia’s current research as a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh and the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh (RBGE) is focused on Guazuma, a representative of the Theobromeae tribe within the family Malvaceaea. This is a widely distributed and ecological generalist adapted to a range of water-limited conditions, from seasonally dry forests to riparian forests. Her aim is to understand the phylogeography and adaptive genomic variation of drought-related genes of this genus.
Guazuma, is a widely distributed and ecological generalist. Understanding the genetic diversity of wild tropical plants is important to comprehending ecosystem dynamics and to contribute to our knowledge of molecular mechanisms in related neotropical species.
How did Natalia get interested in the botanical sciences?
Natalia thinks it all started due to growing up in Colombia which is known for its high biodiversity and variety of ecosystems. Even though she was born in the capital city, Bogotá, her family always spent time in the country side giving her the opportunity to develop an interest for nature and thus she directed her career towards Biology. As an undergrad she found plants so amazing and so unrelatable to humans and animals, that she just wanted to learn more about them. She really enjoyed classifying different plants and found their growth forms fascinating. Additionally, she was amazed by how species adapt to different environments, especially the ones in the mountains at high-elevations.
Natalia’s advice for those just starting their botanical journey
“I would say... Plant biodiversity can be overwhelming, however don't let that stop you. At the end of the day it is amazing to grasp patterns in order to understand a little bit more every day of the complexity we have in front of us”.
In general Natalia considers herself an active person; she likes to exercise regularly, mixing up her routines and activities. For the last three years she has been really engaged with climbing, even with a fear of heights! She finds that climbing helps her release all the stress and challenges that come with academia, enjoying every small win. Although, due to the lockdown, she hasn’t been able to climb much, she is looking forward to when the gyms are open again. For the moment, she has taken cycling as one of the ways to spend her free time during Covid, exploring the different sceneries of Scotland.