One of the biggest scientific expeditions ever undertaken in Indonesia, Lengguru 2014, made it possible to study and collect dozens of unknown plant and animal species, including four new orchids. Curiously, the research team, led by Dr. Lina Juswara, Cibinong Science Centre, Indonesia, collected three of these novelties over the span of a single day at the top of a small and unexplored mountain at 1000-metre elevation. The findings, which confirm previous suggestions that many species still await discovery there, are described and published in the open-access journal Phytokeys.
Thanks to the 2014 Lengguru scientific expedition some of the mysteries of Lengguru, an almost impenetrable mountainous area in an isolated and difficult-to-reach part of the Indonesian half of the New Guinea island, have been revealed. About a hundred participants, including 25 European and 45 Indonesian scientists, took part in it with the shared goal to collect essential data on the biodiversity of West Papua.
Lengguru remains one of the last unexplored territories on the planet. Covering an area, comparable in size to Sardinia, it consists of limestone formations, known as ‘karst’, forming a mosaic of natural ecosystems. The Lengguru 2014 expedition attempted to investigate Lengguru’s biodiversity in order to generate scientific data for molecular, ecological, taxonomical and biogeographical studies.
During the 6-week expedition, 72 fertile/flowering orchid specimens have been collected from the field by the internal team of Indonesian, French and Belgian botanists. So far, four new species have been identified among them.
“After the expedition, we examined and compared the Lengguru orchids with reference material housed in scientific collections,” explains Dr. Lina Juswara. Together with Dr. Vincent Droissart from the Research Institute for Development, France, they were the experts in charge to gather data on the large and glamorous Orchid family during the expedition. The identifications, descriptions and drawings of the new species were realized in close collaboration with Dr. Andre Schuiteman, Royal Botanical Garden Kew, United Kingdom, an internationally recognized expert on the orchid flora of Asia.
New Guinea is known to harbor one of the richest orchid floras in the world, surpassed only by Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. All four new orchid species discovered in Lengguru have been collected in high altitude forest, at over 1000 meters above sea level. These particular habitats, usually shrouded in clouds, are home to an exceptional plant diversity with a high degree of endemism, meaning the species cannot be found anywhere else in the world. The specific environmental conditions and the very small surface occupied by these ‘isolated islands’ of mountain forests make them particularly vulnerable to global climate change.
“Large parts of New Guinea have been overlooked in terms of collection initiatives and it is likely that many species still await discovery there”, says Dr. Lina Juswara. “More field studies are also required to find additional populations of the new species we found in Lengguru, in order to better characterize their habitat, ecology and conservation status. Of the four new orchid species collected during the expedition, three were collected on a single day, confirming that the flora of Lengguru is still far from completely described.”
Juswara L, Schuiteman A, Droissart V (2016) Four new orchid species from the Lengguru fold belt, West Papua, Indonesia. PhytoKeys 61: 47-59. doi: 10.3897/phytokeys.61.7590
Fieldwork, laboratory activities and herbarium visits were supported by the Project Lengguru 2014 (http://www.