Delicious discoveries: Scientists just described a new onion species from the Himalaya

While the onion, garlic, scallion, shallot and chives have been on our plates for centuries, becoming staple foods around the world, their group, the genus Allium, seems to be a long way from running out of surprises. Recently, a group of researchers from India described a new onion species from the western Himalaya region, long known to the locals as “jambu” and “phran”, in the open-access journal PhytoKeys.

The genus Allium contains about 1,100 species worldwide, including many staple foods like onion, garlic, scallion, shallot and chives. Even though this group of vegetables has been making appearances at family dinners for centuries, it turns out that it is a long way from running out of surprises, as a group of researchers from India recently found out.

The flower of Allium negianum

In 2019, Dr. Anjula Pandey, Principal Scientist at ICAR-National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources in New Delhi, together with scientists, Drs K Madhav Rai, Pavan Kumar Malav and S Rajkumar, was working on the systematic botany of the genus Allium for the Indian region, when the team came across plants of what would soon be confirmed as a new species for science in the open-access journal PhytoKeys.

The plant, called Allium negianum, was discovered in the Indo-Tibetan border area of Malari village, Niti valley of Chamoli district in Uttarakhand. It grows at 3000 to 4800 m above sea level and can be found along open grassy meadows, sandy soils along rivers, and streams forming in snow pasture lands along alpine meadows (locally known as “bugyal” or “bugial”), where the melting snow actually helps carry its seeds to more favourable areas. With a pretty narrow distribution, this newly described speciesis restricted to the region of western Himalaya and hasn’t yet been reported from anywhere else in the world. The scientific name Allium negianum honours the late Dr. Kuldeep Singh Negi, an eminent explorer and Allium collector from India.

Although new to science, this species has long been known under domestic cultivation to local communities. While working on this group, the research team heard of  phran, jambu, sakua, sungdung, and kacho – different local names for seasoning onions. According to locals, the one from Niti valley was particularly good, even deemed the best on the market.

The bulb and underground parts of Allium negianum.

So far only known from the western Himalaya region, Allium negianum might be under pressure from people looking to taste it: the researchers fear that indiscriminate harvest of its leaves and bulbs for seasoning may pose a threat to its wild populations.

Research article:

Pandey A, Rai KM, Malav PK, Rajkumar S (2021) Allium negianum (Amaryllidaceae): a new species under subg. Rhizirideum from Uttarakhand Himalaya, India. PhytoKeys 183: 77-93.

Four new fruit fly species from the Himalaya and information about their flower visitation

The first record of flower visitation in a group of fruit flies from Himalayan India and a total of four new species are described in the open access journal ZooKeys. In their paper, scientists also revise the descriptions of all representatives of this genus (Lordiphosa) in India.

12590_Image 2Following a number of observations in Nainital and Darjeeling, India, the team of Dr Rajendra S. Fartyal and Pradeep C. Sati, both affiliated with HNB Garhwal University, Sushmika Pradhan, and Rabindra N. Chatterjee of University of Calcutta, Prof. M.J. Toda of Hokkaido University, and Mukul C. Kandpal and Birendra K. Singh of Kumaon University conclude that two of the new species visit the flowers of spiked ginger lily and angel’s trumpet.

The distributional range of the genus stretches from the tropics of the Oriental to the subarctic of the Palearctic region, with the highest species richness in the subtropics of the Orient. However, these fruit flies have been thought to be poorly represented in India with only seven species recorded so far.

Until now, the fruit flies in the genus Lordiphosa have been known to breed on herbaceous plants. Their larvae are either leaf miners, or feed on decayed leaves and stems.

The specimens used in the present study have been collected from four different hill stations in the Himalayan region in India. These localities are covered with dense mixed-deciduous subtropical forests. They are characterised with extremely moist conditions due to the heavy rainfall during the summer monsoon season.

The authors note that one of the revised species, named L. neokurokawai, has an extraordinary type of sex comb — a male-specific morphological feature composed of thick comb-like structures and located on the foreleg. This adaptation is only seen in two fruit fly genera. It is used in a variety of ways in tactile interactions between males and females during both courtship and mating.

The scientists point out that this finding is important when considering the evolution of the sex comb in the genus Lordiphosa. It is suggested that the sex comb has once evolved in an ancestor of the genus, and proceeded to rapidly diversify through sexual selection. However, “this hypothesis requires further investigation,” the authors say.


Original source:

Fartyal RS, Sati PC, Pradhan S, Kandpal MC, Toda MJ, Chatterjee RN, Singh BK, Bhardwai A (2017) A review of the genus Lordiphosa Basden in India, with descriptions of four new species from the Himalayan region (Diptera, Drosophilidae). ZooKeys 688: 49-79.