Issue #150 of PhytoKeys marks a decade of revolutionising open plant systematics

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So, it’s been ten years and exactly 150 issues since what currently is known as one of the top scholarly journals in plant systematics was launched with the aim to address four key challenges in research accessibility, all of which, however, remain all too relevant still:

  • Digitisation of academic research;
  • Open Access as a publishing model; 
  • Linkage of data available from electronic registers, indices and aggregators to bring together essential information about species;
  • Semantic markup and semantic enhancements to facilitate access to scientific published biological works. 

Nevertheless, we should acknowledge that the past decade has marked a great step forward, with journals like PhytoKeys proud to have assumed the role of a pioneering example in scholarly publishing.

PhytoKeys represented for me a way to bring the results of science to everyone, especially in countries rich in biodiversity but poor in resources to pay huge journal fees. I am so happy that the journal thrives, and continues to strive to bring the knowledge created by botanists from around the world to those who need it most, free from barriers and in an open and linked way,”

says Dr Sandy Knapp, Editor-in-Chief of PhytoKeys and Merit Researcher at the Natural History Museum of London

For ten years now, PhytoKeys has continued to attract increasing interest from researchers looking to publish their novel findings in the domain of botany where they can be openly and freely shared. Indeed, the journal’s stats clearly demonstrate the exponential growth of manuscripts submitted!

Manuscripts submitted (blue) vs. articles published (red) since the launch of PhytoKeys.
Accessed on 19 May 2020.

PhytoKeys continues to push the envelope on innovative publishing in plant taxonomy.  So many more species to describe and understand, while each day time gets shorter for discovering them.  We need everyone on-board to accelerate our efforts,”

says Dr W. John Kress, Editor-in-Chief of PhytoKeys and  the vice-president for science at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (Washington, D.C.)

Data Publishing Innovations

A standard appendix template for primary biodiversity data was recently introduced across Pensoft’s journals to provide direct harvesting and conversion to interlinked FAIR data. Learn more on our blog.

Alongside other biodiversity data-publishing journals on the Pensoft platform, PhytoKeys is also widely recognised for its commitment when it comes to data papers, whose purpose is to describe and contextualise datasets that are already available perhaps elsewhere. 

Data audit workflow provided for data papers submitted to Pensoft journals.

An excellent example for taking care after data quality, hence accessibility and reusability, is the mandatory data audit workflow introduced in early 2019. Have a look at this case study following the experience of University of Cordoba’s scientists Dr Gloria Martínez-Sagarra and Prof Juan Antonio Devesa, who described the herbarium dataset for the vascular plants in COFC.

What’s HOT on PhytoKeys?

Six special issues published in PhytoKeys in 2020.

This year, we have already seen the publication of six special issues in PhytoKeys, including the 150th issue, presenting the official report on the discussions and decisions of the week-long Nomenclature Section held in the week before the XIX International Botanical Congress held in Shenzhen, China, in 2017. This issue will be the historical record for this ground-breaking meeting, where algal, fungal and plant naming rules were changed to increase participation.

In the past ten years, the journal is proud to have published a total of forty special issues, in order to put together big chunks in the puzzle of plant life on Earth.

1. XIX International Botanical Congress, Shenzhen: report of the Nomenclature Section, 17th to 21st July 2017 (Issue 150)

Published as the anniversarial 150th issue, the official report on the discussions and decisions of the ten sessions of the Nomenclature Section of the XIX International Botanical Congress, paints “a true and lively picture of the event, retaining the atmosphere of goodwill and humour that infused the meeting”. 

The meeting, held in Shenzhen, China, in 2017, brought together 155 registered members of the Section representing 30 countries, of whom 71 carried 427 institutional votes from 166 institutions in 41 countries, making a total of 582 possible votes representing 44 countries.  The main result of the Section’s discussions and decisions is the Shenzhen Code.

2. An annotated checklist of the coastal forests of Kenya, East Africa, (Issue 147)

A collaboration between research teams from China and Kenya resulted in an extensive and detailed checklist of vascular plants inhabiting the coastal forests of Kenya, in order to facilitate adequate risk assessments. Despite being existent for millions of years and well-known as a biodiversity hotspot, these forests are under anthropogenic pressure that has already led to their serious fragmentation. Nevertheless, these can still be saved before meeting the fate of other forest patches along the coasts of Africa, which rarely exceed 5 km2.

3. A synoptic review of the aloes (Asphodelaceae, Alooideae) of KwaZulu-Natal, an ecologically diverse province in eastern South Africa (Issue 142)

In another major study dealing with the astonishing biodiversity of African coasts, researchers from South Africa compiled the first ever atlas of aloe occurrence in KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa). Their monograph enlists a total of four genera and 49 taxa, where fourteen are endemic and eleven near-endemic to the province that spans over 92 290 km2.

4. Vascular plants of Victoria Island (Northwest Territories and  Nunavut, Canada): a specimen-based study of an Arctic flora (Issue 141)

To bridge the gap in knowledge about vascular flora of Victoria Island – the eighth largest island in the world, where plant diversity remains very poorly explored – Canadian scientists studied nearly 1,000 specimens from a total of 7,031 unique collections. The resulting monograph brings together 38 families, 108 genera, 272 species, and 17 additional taxa, which are to serve as a new baseline for continued exploration of the vascular flora of Victoria Island.

5. Plant diversity of Southeast Asia-II (Issue 138)

Despite hosting four global biodiversity hotspots, the plants of Southeast Asia are yet to be fully grasped by scientific accounts. Meanwhile, this rich diversity is under a serious threat posed by rapid economic development and population growth. This special issue, published in PhytoKeys in January, reports on the findings of the last six investigations of The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI): a long-term programme, whose mission is to connect the world with the aim of increasing trade and economic growth and accelerating regional integration, while preserving biodiversity and promoting sustainable development in Southeast Asia.

6. Scorzonera sensu lato (Asteraceae, Cichorieae) – taxonomic reassessment in the light of new molecular phylogenetic and carpological analyses (Issue 137)

The first comprehensive sampling of the flowering genus Scorzonera in its widest sense and all other genera recognised in the subtribe Scorzonerinae of the dandelion tribe (Cichorieae) was reported by a team of German and Russian scientists, in order to resolve long-standing debates over the circumscription of the genus and its 180–190 species. In their paper, the researchers provide a re-evaluation of Scorzonera and other related genera, based on morphological, including anatomical and carpological, and extended molecular phylogenetic analyses.

Top Pop Plants!

Last time around, we celebrated the 100th issue of PhytoKeys with a blog post recalling the five most exciting new species published in the journal to that date (21 June 2018). 

So, to follow this cool tradition, it only makes sense to take a look back at the TOP 5 most talked about discoveries published in PhytoKeys since then. 
Here are the top 5 according to the data available from the public attention tracker Altmetric, in descending order:

5. A common large and widely used palm in Cameroon went nameless

The overlooked giant: the newly described palm tree Raphia zamiana.
Photo by Thomas L.P. Couvreur.

A palm tree large in size and numbers that grows along the roadside is hard to stay under cover, isn’t it? Not this one, though. 

Found in southern Cameroon and western Gabon, palm trees that the local people call “Zam” have long been used in the region for a range of purposes, including timber in construction, fruits – for consumption and medicine, and sap – in wine tapping. 

However, it was only in 2018 that the international research team, led by  Suzanne Mogue Kamga of the Yaoundé I University (Cameroon) identified the species as missing in the scientific literature. They made the discovery during a three-year-long extensive field survey in Gabon, Cameroon, Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Find more on our blog

Research paper: 

Kamga SM, Niangadouma R, Stauffer FW, Sonké B, Couvreur TLP (2018) Two new species of Raphia (Palmae/Arecaceae) from Cameroon and Gabon. PhytoKeys 111: 17-30. 

4. Massive monograph for the morning glories of the New World 

Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) growing as a weed in a waste ground, San Ramon, Peru.
Photo by Robert Scotland.

To avoid major overlooking of relatives of the sweet potato and the moonflower, similarly to the case of the palm tree we just told you about, here, a research team from the University of Oxford undertook a massive, even painstaking task, involving hundreds of species and times more specimens, in addition to numerous and dispersed herbaria, where they needed to find the specimens, and scattered, often obscure literature.

As a result, they listed a total of 425 species representing all members of the largest genus within the morning glory family (Convolvulaceae): Ipomoea, found in the New World. Furthermore, they provided details, including distributional data for each of those plants. 

Importantly, their study relies on the “foundation monograph” approach the authors had previously invented to bring together standard techniques with the use of online digital images and molecular sequence data. Thereby, the scientists were able to focus on species-level taxonomic problems across the entire distribution range of individual species.

Find more on our blog.

Research paper:

Wood JR.I, Muñoz-Rodríguez P, Williams BR.M, Scotland RW (2020) A foundation monograph of Ipomoea (Convolvulaceae) in the New World. PhytoKeys 143: 1-823.

3. Blood-red aloe waited for an ID card by the roads of Somaliland

Inflorescence branch and flowers of Aloe sanguinalis. On the left there is the sap as it develops to the rich dark red color, which gave the name of the new species.
Photo by Barkworth M, et al.

So, being large and commonly utilised is no guarantee to attract formal recognition in the world of plants, but a striking colouration could surely do better, you might be thinking.

Think again. A species of conspicuous blood-red aloe growing along the roads of Somaliland, spectacular for its large clumps and sap, which once released, quickly turns from yellow to bright red and then to dark-red or reddish-brown, remained unknown to science until last year. 

Just like in the case with the African palm, the locals were well aware of the “bloody” aloe and, apparently, its specificity. All along they’ve been calling it “Dacar cas” or “Red aloe”.

In fact, the discovery of what we now shall refer to as Aloe sanguinalis (from sanguineus, Latin for blood, in reference to its one-of-a-kind red sap) starts with co-author Ahmed Awale, a leading Somaliland environmentalist, who spotted the large, reddish clumps of the plant, while driving through the country on behalf of Candlelight, an NGO focused on the environment, education, and health.

Find more on our blog.

Research paper:

Barkworth ME, Awale AI, Gelle FJ (2019) Dacar Cas/Somali Red Aloe: a new species of Aloe (Asphodelaceae) from Somaliland. PhytoKeys 117: 85-97.     

2. The “oldest bamboo” fossil from Eocene Patagonia turned out to be a conifer

The holotype of the species Retrophyllum oxyphyllum (comb. nov.), previously thought to be the oldest known bamboo.
Photo by Peter Wilf.

Unlike the stories above, this one deals with a species scientists thought they knew everything about. 

Originally named Chusquea oxyphylla, a fossilised leafy branch dated to the early Eocene and discovered in Patagonia (South America) back in 1941, was thought to be the oldest bamboo fossil and the main evidence for a Gondwanan origin of bamboos ever since.

However, upon close examination, Dr. Peter Wilf from Pennsylvania State University revealed the historic specimen was in fact a conifer. As a result, the species was renamed to Retrophyllum oxyphyllum.

Find more on our blog.

Research paper:

Wilf P (2020) Eocene “Chusquea” fossil from Patagonia is a conifer, not a bamboo. PhytoKeys 139: 77-89. 

1. The Australian bush tomato that can switch between sexes

The unusual with its breeding system fluidity new to science bush tomato species Solanum plastisexum.
Photo by Chris Martine.

Here comes the #1 in most talked about of the studies published in PhytoKeys since June 2018. This is a new species of Australian bush tomato, named Solanum plastisexum, whose remarkable sexual fluidity means that plants switch between breeding systems – from bearing a mixture of male and female flowers, to having only male or female flowers, to having hermaphroditic flowers – throughout their lives. 

“For the most part, a given plant species will stick to one primary and predictable type of sexual expression,” explains senior author of the study Dr Chris Martine, a professor of botany at Bucknell University, “but what makes Solanum plastisexum stand out is that it is one of a just a few plants that kind of do it all. It really seems like you never know what you’ll get when you come across it.”

“When considering the scope of life on Earth, the notion of a constant sexual binary consisting of distinct and disconnected forms is, fundamentally, a fallacy,” conclude the authors.

Find more on our blog.

Research paper: 

McDonnell AJ, Wetreich HB, Cantley JT, Jobson P, Martine CT (2019) Solanum plastisexum, an enigmatic new bush tomato from the Australian Monsoon Tropics exhibiting breeding system fluidity. PhytoKeys 124: 39-55.

Read the story of Solanum plastisexum in The New York Times.
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