Carlos Jaramillo - 120 million years for one man

A great name in paleontology, Colombian Carlos Jaramillo is a specialist in the evolution of Amazonian-andindian ecosystems over the last 120 million years. The researcher of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute explained in particular the origin of the abundant biodiversity of this intertropical region.

The ceremony to award the title of Doctor Honoris Causa to paleobotanist Carlos Jaramillo was a reflection of his character. On this April 6, 2023, there was no decorum or gowns - a campus blockade obliged - but a classroom and a polo shirt. " A DIY approach that suits him well," says Pierre-Olivier Antoine ofISEM, referring to the man who is more of an adventurer than a court official. Carlos Jaramillo called out to the young people who were blocking the campus," recalls his colleague from the University of Montpellier, "I know about the barricades, I'm Colombian. And my heart goes out to you. But I need to pass" And he passed. "

Researcher at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, Carlos Jaramillo is more precisely a palynologist. Thanks to pollen collected from the banks of the Amazon to the top of the Andes, the 50-year-old has reconstructed the evolution of American tropical flora and landscapes over the last 120 million years. " He is the only paleontologist to cover such a long period of time," says Pierre-Olivier Antoine. " His creation of a sequential table over more than 100 million years, which makes it possible to date and characterize an environment from an assemblage of pollen, represents a colossal work of synthesis," explains the paleontologist from Montpellier. Pollen allows us to date and sign the presence of numerous plants and thus to reconstruct past ecosystems, but also to understand the evolutionary phenomena that occurred on the scale of geological time. This knowledge will shed light on the understanding of current changes, Carlos Jaramillo recalled in his speech.

Nearly 40 articles in two years

Not a man of the court but a man of the network, Carlos Jaramillo collaborates with teams all over the world. Pierre-Olivier Antoine has been working with him since 2008. This collaboration has earned the University of Montpellier to welcome him in September 2019, as a visiting professor. The invitation will ultimately last for two years, as the difficult period of Covid pushed the Colombian to extend his French stay. Two years during which the "hyperactive" - as his colleagues call him - has published nearly 40 scientific papers, of which he is the only signatory for the UM. " He has thus fully and voluntarily participated in the international influence of the university in the field of ecology-evolution," thanked UM President Philippe Augé at the ceremony. In one of his publications, published in April 2021 in Science, the specialist in the evolution of Amazonian and Antarctic ecosystems shows that the deep crisis at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary (which caused the near extinction of the dinosaurs) is at the origin of the current biodiversity in the region. The flora, dominated in the Cretaceous by conifers, is then largely decimated to be reconstituted during the following millions of years in favor of a new plant kingdom until then marginal, that of the angiosperms.


At ISEM, Carlos Jaramillo has won unanimous approval. " Carlos interacts with everyone, participates in all the seminars, and willingly shares his thoughts," confides Pierre-Olivier Antoine, a fan, who cannot help but compare the Colombian researcher's friendliness with his difficulties in extending his residence permit: " He came close to being undocumented. This knowledge of how to live is also precious in the field, when collecting samples in sometimes tense socio-political contexts requires gaining the trust of local populations. " In the field, people immediately recognize us. If we arrive in a colonial position, things don't go well... With Carlos, I have never had a problem," says Pierre-Olivier Antoine. He adds: " Carlos also has a flair for spotting in difficult conditions where the samples will contain the desired markers. This is a precious talent for teams who go on missions more than 10,000 km from their laboratories with the risk of returning empty-handed. Among his major discoveries, Carlos Jaramillo counts the largest snake ever identified, Titanoboa, 14 meters long. Fortunately, this titan became extinct... 60 million years ago!