Robbert Gradstein

Senior research scientist - Bryology

Department: Research, Herbarium & Library


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My research focuses on bryophytes, especially liverworts (Marchantiophyta). With about 6000 species worldwide, liverworts are the second largest group of the bryophytes; most of the species occur in the tropics and have been little studied. Together with my students and research associates I have done fieldwork in various parts of tropical America and Asia and have prepared taxonomic monographs, revisions, floristic and ecological papers, as well as manuals for the identification of these fascinating plants. My most recent books include a Liverwort Flora of Colombia and Ecuador (treating 850 species, in 143 genera and 47 families) and a Guide to the genera of liverworts and hornworts of Malaysia. In addition, I have been an editor of Flora Neotropica, an ongoing Flora project for the whole of tropical America, and a co-editor of the Catalogue of the Plants and Lichens of Colombia, one of the world’s major biodiversity hotspots with more than 25.000 plant species.

Recently, I have become involved in the study of the African bryophyte flora, especially of Central Africa and Madagascar, for which I am profiting from the rich collections in the herbarium of Meise. In this connection I have started the preparation of the bryophyte treatment in the Flore d'Afrique Centrale, particularly liverwiorts and hornworts. The first volume dealing with hornworts (10 species, in 2 families) was published in 2023 and the second volume, treating part of the liverworts, is scheduled to appear in 2024

I am also interested in biogeography and ecology, and have participated in several multidisciplinary projects studying tropical biodiversity along climatic gradients, especially elevation and land use gradients, focusing on primary and secondary forests, plantations, páramo habitats, etc. The goals of these studies were to gather information on distribution and habitats of species, and their resilience to disturbance as a basis for their conservation. As most bryophytes in tropical forests grow on trees, I have expanded my focus in these studies to epiphytes more in general. We worked in the Andes, Amazonia and Costa Rica, but also in Sulawesi where large tracts of traditional land use types and undisturbed rainforest still remain. During fieldwork in French Guiana, we discovered a new forest type, the "tropical lowland cloud forest" characterized by high cloudiness and great richness of epiphytes near sea level. We are currently studying the distribution of this interesting new forest type at a regional scale with support of the German Research Foundation. 

Finally, I have an interest in history of science and have written essays dealing with the life and work of bryologists, history of geobotany and of botanical gardens with a focus on the botanical garden of Göttingen.



  • PhD, University of Utrecht, The Netherlands (1975)
  • MSc, University of Utrecht, The Netherlands (1969)


  • Jesse M. Greenman Award of the Missouri Botanical Garden for best dissertation in plants systematics (1976)
  • Prix Augustin-Pyramus de Candolle for monographic botanical resarch (1995)
  • First Fundraising Price of the University of Göttingen (2005)
  • Hedwig Medal of the International Association of Bryologists for lifelong achievement in bryology (2013)
  • Ordinary Member of the Academy of Sciences, Göttingen (since 1999)
  • Foreign Member of the Academia Colombiana de Ciencias Exactas, Físicas y Naturales (since 2015)

Employment history

  • Professor of Botany and Director of the Botanical Garden, University of Göttingen, Germany (1995–2009)
  • Lecturer / senior lecturer and herbarium curator, University of Utrecht (1971-1995)
    Graduate research assistant, University of Cincinnati, U.S.A. (1970–1971) 

Other positions

  • Attaché honoraire, Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris (2010 – ongoing)
  • Advisory Professor, West China University, Shanghai (2006 – ongoing)
  • Visiting scientist, New York Botanical Garden (2005)
  • Visiting scientist, Botanical Garden, Rio de Janeiro (2000)
  • Associate researcher, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama (1993–1996)
  • Andrew Mellon fellow, Smithsonian Institution, U.S.A (1993)
  • Netherlands professor, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (1986–1987)
  • JSPS fellow, National Science Museum, Tokyo (1979)
  • Fullbright Fellow, University of Colorado, Boulder (1976)

Professional activities

  • Editor-in-chief, Regnum Vegetabile (2011–2018)
  • Editor-in-chief, TAXON (2005–2011)
  • Deputy-Director and editor, Organization for Flora Neotropica (1987–2005)
  • Editor, Bryophytorum Bibliotheca (1984–2005)
  • President, International Association of Bryologists (1999–2005)
  • Co-founder and secretary-treasurer, International Association of Bryologists (1970–1987)
  • Co-founder and director, Göttingen Centre of Biodiversity and Ecology (2000–2002)
  • Founder and honorary staff member, Herbarium Celebense, Indonesia (2001)
  • External Examiner, University of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur (2003–2006)
  • Member, Threatened Species Committee, IUCN (1990–2002)
  • Advisor, Tropenbos Foundation, The Netherlands (1992–1993)
  • Advisory board member, Netherlands Foundation for Tropical Research (1987–1991)
  • Chairman, Netherlands Foundation for Biological Research, Plant Systematics Division (1984–1989)
  • Vice-President and editor, Royal Dutch Botanical Society (1980–1983)
  • Associate editor, Revue Bryologique Lichénologique (1975–1990), Journal of Bryology (1990–2005)
  • Convener, Golden Jubilee symposium, International Association of Bryologists, Madrid (2019)
  • Organizer and chairman, International congress "Systematics 2008", Göttingen (2008)
  • Organizing committee member, International botanical congress, Vienna (2005)
  • Organizer and chairman, International symposium on molecular phylogeny of bryophytes, Göttingen (2004)
  • President, World congress of bryology, Lucknow (2002) and Merida (2004)
  • Organizer, Annual conference, Society for Tropical Ecology, Göttingen (2002)
  • Organizer and chairman, Hedwig symposium, Göttingen (1999) 


  • Gradsteinia Ochyra (Colombia)
  • Gradsteinianthus J.Wang & R.L.Zhu (China, Vietnam)

CV and List of publications (PDF)