A visit to Brazil as part of UK-Brazil Year of Science and Innovation

A visit to Brazil as part of UK-Brazil Year of Science and Innovation
Admin 28.11.2018

by Ghillean T. Prance FRS, former Director of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and visiting Professor at the University of Reading

As a scientist who has worked with and in Brazil since 1964 I was delighted that 2018 was declared the UK-Brazil Year of Science and Innovation. I was very pleased to be invited by the UK Embassy in Brazil to make another visit to Brazil. This trip was a mixture of events organised by the Embassy and follow up of my various research interests in Brazil. This visit during the first three weeks of August was divided between three familiar locations for me: Rio de Janeiro, Belém and Manaus and so I describe my activities in each place.

Rio de Janeiro 1-6 August 2018

My host institution in Rio was the Jardim Botânico, an institution with which I have collaborated for many years, and that hold many of my collections. My goal was to study the extensive collections of the Humiriaceae family in the herbarium to gather data for a monograph of the family that I am writing for Flora Neotropica. The Rio herbarium contains many historical and modern collections and is an essential resource for such taxonomic studies and it is collaborating with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in several different projects. The Embassy arranged for me to give two lectures in Rio. The one at the Jardim was on the biological evidences for climate change based on the various changes in plant phenology and distributions that I and other biologists have observed. The second lecture was as a participant in a day-long meeting on the Amazon hosted by the wonderful Museu do Amanha. I spoke about the Amazon ecosystems and the various problems facing the region at present. It was also important for me to hear and learn from the other speakers, especially an indigenous person from Acre State, and to have discussions with several Brazilian scientists such as an old friend and climate change specialist Carlos Nobre.

Belém 6-11 August 2018

The purpose of visiting Belém was twofold. Mainly to attend the conference Belém+30 of the International Society of Ethnobiology, but also to study the important collections of Humiraceae in the herbarium of the Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi. This herbarium contains many historic type collections of Amazonian plants as so it is essential to study them for any taxonomic work treating Amazon plants. I have collaborated with them for many years. The international conference was attended by over 1500 delegates. Most exciting to me was the number of indigenous delegates from many different tribes. I took part in two panels at the conference. The first on the ethics of ethnobotanical work and the second on food resources from the Amazon. In the latter I spoke about edible insects and fungi that I have studied in the Amazon. I found myself on that panel sitting next to Resende Sanöma a Yanomami Indian who also spoke about their use of edible fungi. Scientists at INPA Manaus have helped the Sanöma commercialise their edible fungi based on my research and publications on them in the 1970s. After some discussion we discovered that it was Resende’s grandmother who had taught me all about their use of edible fungi.

Manaus 11-16 August 2018

The purpose of my time in Manaus was to study the large collections of specimens of Humiriaceae in the herbarium of the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazonia (INPA) and to discuss various collaborations with Dr. Michael Hopkins the head of the herbarium there. INPA has been the base for much of my Amazonian research since my first visit there in 1965. From 1973-1975 I was the founding director of their postgraduate education programme. During my time in Manaus this time I spent considerable time discussing and mentoring some of Dr. Hopkins’ students and staff. I also found an undescribed new species of Humiriastrum in the herbarium and will be publishing the new name in my monograph.



I thank the British Embassy for funding my travel to Brazil and Rui Lopes for accompanying me around Rio de Janeiro and Fernanda Hamilton for logistic support while in in Belém.

Ghillean Prance with Resende Sanöma in Belém

Photo of 1976 by Ghillean Prance of a young Sanöma Indian with a basket of edible fungi

Ghillean Prance with a group of Brazilian scientists who study and commercialize the edible fungi of the Sanöma. Rear left is Dr. William Millken from the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew who also attended the Belém+30 conference as part of the UK-Brazil Year of Science and Innovation

A herbarium specimen of Endopleura uchi (Humiriaceae) at the Museu Goeldi, Belém


Press interviews

Estadão Newspaper – Interview about climate change in Rio
Revista Sócio Ambiental – interview about Yanomami fungi after the roundtable

Categorias: Blog