Orchid or Demon: Flower of a new species of orchid looks like a devil’s head

A lone and unique population of about 30 reddish to dark violet-maroon orchids grows on the small patch of land between the borders of two Colombian departments. However, its extremely small habitat is far from the only striking thing about the new species.

A closer look at its flowers’ heart reveals what appears to be a devil’s head. Named after its demonic patterns, the new orchid species, Telipogon diabolicus, is described in the open access journal PhytoKeys.

Discovered by Dr Marta Kolanowska and Prof Dariusz Szlachetko, both affiliated with University of Gdansk, Poland, together with Dr Ramiro Medina Trejo, Colombia, the new orchid grows a stem measuring between 5.5 – 9 cm in height.

With its only known habitat restricted to a single population spread across a dwarf montane forest at the border between departments Putumayo and Nariño, southern Colombia, the devilish orchid is assigned as a Critically Endangered species in the IUCN Red List.

Although the curious orchid could be mistakenly taken for a few other species, there are still some easy to see physical traits that make the flower stand out. Apart from the demon’s head hidden at the heart of its colours, the petals themselves are characteristically clawed. This feature has not been found in any other Colombian species of the genus.close-up

“In the most recent catalogue of Colombian plants almost 3600 orchid species representing nearly 250 genera are included,” remind the authors. “However, there is no doubt that hundreds of species occurring in this country remain undiscovered. Only in 2015 over 20 novelties were published based on material collected in Colombia.”

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Original source:

Kolanowska M, Szlachetko DL, Trejo RM (2016) Telipogon diabolicus (Orchidaceae, Oncidiinae), a new species from southern Colombia. PhytoKeys 65: 113-124. doi:10.3897/phytokeys.65.8674

From a bulletin to a modern open access journal: Italian Botanist in Pensoft’s portfolio

Established in the distant 1888, the Italian Botanical Society has gone a long way towards publishing its achievements and research. Originated as a bulletin within an Italian journal, they have been growing ever since to now form a new international journal in its own right. Covering both Italian and international research in botany and mycology, the online open access journal Italian Botanist, published by Pensoft, is now officially launched via its first papers.

Although what was later to become Italian Botanist, published its first issue as an independent journal, called Informatore Botanico Italiano in 1969, the publications were still rather bulletin-style. It consisted of a mixture of administrative and scientific proceedings of the Society, the yearbook of the members, as well as scientific notes.

Nevertheless, such a major transition has been set to change everything fundamentally. Establishing its name, the journal started picking up, so that it was not long before the scientific contributions were prevailing. Impressively, for the Society’s centenary the journal published a celebratory 331-page contribution.

Gradually, its scope was expanded to cover several scientific fields. It hosted several themed columns, including cytotaxonomic contributions on the Italian flora, relevant new floristic records for Italy, conservational issues concerning the Italian flora and mycology.

However, the Directive Council of the Italian Botanical Society has not seemed to be ready to give up on their journal’s evolution. Last year, the botanists decided that they need to transform the journal to an an online, open access journal written in English and called Italian Botanist, in order to boost the scientific value and international visibility of Informatore Botanico Italiano.

italian botanist editorial PR

Under the name Italian Botanist, the journal has now joined Pensoft’s portfolio of peer-reviewed open access journals, all of which take advantage of the advanced technologies and innovations developed by the publisher.

The new journal’s scope ranges from molecular to ecosystem botany and mycology. The geographical coverage of Italian Botanist is specially focused on the Italian territory, but studies from other areas are also welcome.

Staying faithful to its spirit and philosophy, it keeps its column-format, with each issue to contain five columns, namely Chromosome numbers for the Italian flora, Global and Regional IUCN Red List Assessments, Notulae to the Italian flora of algae, briophytes, fungi and lichens, Notulae to the Italian native vascular flora and Notulae to the Italian alien vascular flora.

“Our hope is that this renewed version of the journal will serve the Italian – and foreign – botanical community more efficiently and provide readers worldwide with an easier access to knowledge concerning the Italian flora,” says Italian Botanist‘s Editor-in-Chief Lorenzo Peruzzi.

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Original source:

Peruzzi L, Siniscalco C (2016) From Bullettino della Società Botanica Italiana to Italian Botanist, passing through Informatore Botanico Italiano. A 128 years-long story. Italian Botanist 1: 1-4. doi: 10.3897/italianbotanist.1.8646

Black wattle’s new biogeographic distribution threatens flight safety in China

Black wattle, flowering trees also known as the Australian acacia, have been observed to rapidly spread around local airports in Yunnan province, southwestern China. According to the ecologists, this alien species and its extraordinary pace of invasion are to lead to new threats for both flight safety and local biodiversity. The five Chinese scientists, led by Min Liu, PhD student at Yunnan University, have their findings and suggestions for immediate measures published in the open-access journal Neobiota.

The phenomenon was investigated by the ecologists and botanists, affiliated with Yunnan University and Kunming University of Science and Technology, at Kunming’s Changshui International Airport.

The black wattle is listed as being among the ”Top 100 of the world’s worst invasive alien species” by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). Native to Australia, the species has been settled across the globe for more than 150 years owing to its multiple uses. However, its distribution and expansion are generally overlooked in China.

It is an evergreen fast growing flowering tree species, which is strongly dependent on sunlight and contributes to nitrogen fixation. This means that due to bacteria in its root system, the tree produces nitrogen compounds that help the plant grow and compete with other plants. Once dead, it would release these compounds to fertilise the soil.

During their investigation, the scientists observed a total seedling spread of 1800 m in 2013, with its peak growth taking place between June and November. Other population features such as number, density, height and ground diameter, also showed that the species had a very high invasion rate.

The authors conclude that black wattle has a strong potential to change the local vegetation structure and increase the risk of bird strikes. It is of urgent need that the situation is further assessed and the potential invasion threat at other airports around China and other parts of the world – evaluated.

“I have never found such a rapid expansion like the one of the black wattle trees at this airport in my career,” said the Head of Bird Strike Prevention Office of Changshui Airport. “These trees grow very fast and provide good shelters for local birds, which eventually increases the probability of bird strikes at our airport. So, they must be controlled.”

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Original source:

Liu M, Yang M, Song D, Zhang Z, Ou X (2016) Invasive Acacia mearnsii De Wilde in Kunming, Yunnan Province, China: a new biogeographic distribution that Threatens Airport Safety.NeoBiota 29: 53-62. doi: 10.3897/neobiota.29.7230

World’s smallest of giant flowers discovered in the Philippines

Some of the world’s giant flowers, those of the parasitic plant genus Rafflesia, can reach up to a meter and a half in diameter. Therefore, what could be more impressive about them are ‘dwarves’ such as the record-breaking one that was recently discovered by scientists from the University of the Philippines Diliman and the University of the Philippines Los Baños. Its average diameter is only 9.73 cm and has been named  consueloae. The study is published in the open-access journal PhytoKeys.

Curiously enough, the discovery happened after a field assistant accidentally tripped over a pile of forest litter to expose a decayed flower. Later on, lead researcher Prof Perry S. Ong would describe the novel finding as “serendipitous”.

The new species is named Rafflesia consueloae in honor of Ms Consuelo ‘Connie’ Rufino Lopez, lifelong partner of Filipino industrialist Oscar M. Lopez. “With her demure, but strong personality traits, which Rafflesia consueloae also possesses, she provides the inspiration for Mr Lopez’s pursuit of biodiversity conservation in the Philippines,” Prof Ong says.

Image 2 IMG_9892.JPEG Photo by Edwino S. Fernando

Rafflesia flowers are unique in that they are entirely parasitic on roots and stems of specific vines in the forests and have no distinct roots, stems, or leaves of their own,” explains co-author Prof Edwino S. Fernando. “Thus, they are entirely dependent on their host plants for water and nutrients.”

In Sumatra and Borneo another species of the same genus, Rafflesia arnoldi, holds the record of being the largest single flower in the world with a diameter of up to 1.5 meter. In the Philippines, Rafflesia schadenbergiana, found only in Mindanao, is still large with a flower diameter of 0.8 meter. Professor Fernando, added that Rafflesia consueloae is the 6th species from Luzon Island and the 13th for the entire Philippine archipelago.

The new species has been classified as Critically Endangered, based on IUCN criteria as it has less than 100 km2 extent of occurrence with its two small populations. The continued protection of the populations of this species is important as some local people still hunt wildlife within the area and forest fires are likely in the dry season, factors which might threaten the survival of R. consueloae.

The field and laboratory work of the field scientists are part of the Comprehensive Biodiversity Conservation Monitoring Program of Pantabangan-Carranglan Project, funded by the First Gen Hydro Power Corportation (FGHPC) and Wildlife Forensics and DNA Barcoding of Philippine Biodiversity of the University of the Philippines Diliman – Department of the Environment and Natural Resources – Biodiversity Management Bureau (DENR-BMB).

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Original source:

Galindon JMM, Ong PS, Fernando ES (2016) Rafflesia consueloae (Rafflesiaceae), the smallest among giants; a new species from Luzon Island, Philippines. PhytoKeys 61: 37-46. doi: 10.3897/phytokeys.61.7295

New species with heart-shaped fruits inspires a love for biodiversity in Hawai’i

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, botanists from Hawai’i have discovered a new species of plant with small heart-shaped fruits. The new species is a member of the coffee family (Rubiaceae) and part of the genus Coprosma, which occurs across many remote islands of the Pacific Ocean. They named the new Hawaiian species after the symbol of love – calling it Coprosma cordicarpa – meaning the Coprosma with heart-shaped fruit. Their research is published in the open-access journal PhytoKeys.

 

The botanists, who discovered C. cordicarpa, describe their finding as the result of a loving adventure with Hawaiian biodiversity. It began when Hawai’i’s State Botanist Dr. Maggie J. Sporck-Koehler noticed the little heart-shaped fruits in the Kanaio Natural Area Reserve on the Island of Maui, while attending a work meeting with the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW).

 

One of the primary mandates of DOFAW is to conserve Hawai’i’s native ecosystems and the species that reside in them. As State Botanist, Sporck-Koehler is most often working on issues relating to rare or State and Federally listed threatened and endangered (T&E) plant species. Gaining a better understanding of native Hawaiian plant conservation status and helping to facilitate conservation efforts is one of the main objectives of the work she does for the State. Therefore, when something extraordinary gets under her nose, such as an unusual Coprosmapopulation, she takes a note and a sample.

 

Sporck-Koehler attempted to identify the species using a key so that she could know what she was looking at. She got to Coprosma foliosa, but was not satisfied. So, she turned to Dr. Jason T. Cantley, who at the time was finishing his PhD research on the genus Coprosma at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa Department of Botany. “I was very taken with it,” Sporck-Koehler told Cantley. “It seemed different than any other [Coprosma] foliosas I’ve seen.”

Image2_CantleyCoprosmacordicarpa

Then, Cantley concluded that the heart-shaped fruits and other characteristics looked different enough that it was worth it to visit specimens at the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in Honolulu, and then to examine the plants themselves. “We needed to get all our ducks in a row, making sure we knew what we were looking for before we flew to Maui,” Cantley says. “Part of that planning was to think about the long-term conservation of Coprosma cordicarpafrom the start. That’s one reason it was necessary to bring Dr. Chau into this project.”

 

Dr. Marian M. Chau is the Seed Conservation Laboratory Manager at Lyon Arboretum’s Hawaiian Rare Plant Program in Honolulu. The Seed Conservation Lab‘s mission is to aid in the prevention of extinction of Hawaiian plant species by maintaining a long-term seed bank collection, to propagate plants for use in approved restoration projects, and to conduct research on seed storage and germination for the Hawaiian flora. The Seed Conservation Lab currently stores over 11 million seeds from about 40% of all Hawaiian native species, with the ultimate goal to represent the entire flora with research and/or long-term germplasm collections. This includes under-described biodiversity, like the heart-shaped fruits of C. cordicarpa.

 

From early on, it was clear that C. cordicarpa was not all that common, as it can only be found on one island. In fact, the botanists determined the new species fell within the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red Vulnerable Category (VU) for extinction risk. The VU is the lowest of the three threatened Red List categories, but indicates that C. cordicarpastill faces threats of extinction in the wild. Chau suggested that they collect seeds for long-term germplasm storage at the Seed Conservation Lab.

 

Two field adventures on Maui and many herbarium specimen measurements later, the authors were confident they were looking at a new species. All in all, 609 seeds from 32 plants were collected, which are going to help preserve the biodiversity of this species for many years to come.

 

The authors had a passion for Hawaiian plant biodiversity and conservation well before this project, but it was the discovery of the heart-shaped fruits that brought these three botanists together. With their naming of this new species, they hope to also inspire others with a love for biodiversity that will continue long into the future.

 

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Original source:

Cantley JT, Sporck-Koehler MJ, Chau MM (2016) New and resurrected Hawaiian species of pilo (Coprosma, Rubiaceae) from the island of Maui. PhytoKeys 60: 33-48. doi: 10.3897/phytokeys.60.6465

New tiny arboreal toad species from India is just small enough for its own genus

Found on a herb bush, a toad of only 24 mm average length, measured from its snout tip to its cloaca, was quick to make its discoverers consider its status as a new species. After identifying its unique morphological and skeletal characters, and conducting a molecular phylogenetic analysis, not only did Dr. Aggarwal, Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology, Dr. Vaudevan, Wildlife Institute of India and Laboratory for Conservation of Endangered Species along with their team, introduce a new species, but also added a new genus. The new ‘Andaman bush toad’, as its proposed common name is, is described in a paper published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

With its significantly smaller size when compared to its relatives, the new toad species seems to have had its name predetermined by nature. After naming its genus after the initiator of herpetological studies in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the first Curator of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Edward Blyth, the species name was derived from the local epithet ‘beryet’, referring to ‘small frog’ in Andamanese. As a result, the toad was named Blythophryne beryet.

“We believe that the Great Andamanese knew of the existence of this small arboreal anuran,” the scientists explained their choice. “We hope the nomen we coin here will also raise awareness about the dwindling, indigenous tribal populations in the Andamans, their culture and extinction of their tribal languages.”

The herein described toad species occupies mostly evergreen forests across five of the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal, India. Although highly abundant, this is probably because of its narrow range of distribution.

Being active at night, the little amphibian can be regularly seen all year round, rested on the leaf surface of herb bushes. During daytime, it tends to hide under leaf litter on the forest floor. It is also characterised by reddish brown colouration, complete with two feeble dark brown inverted ‘V’-shaped markings.

Because of its severely fragmented population, restricted to no more than 10 locations, its conservation status is regarded as ‘Endangered’ based on the IUCN. Additional threats to the so far monotypic genus and its habitat are also posed by human activity and invasive fauna.

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Original source:

Chandramouli SR, Vasudevan K, Harikrishnan S, Dutta SK, Janani SJ, Sharma R, Das I, Aggarwal RK (2016) A new genus and species of arboreal toad with phytotelmonous larvae, from the Andaman Islands, India (Lissamphibia, Anura, Bufonidae). ZooKeys 555: 57-90. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.555.6522

 

Counting stars: Illegal trade of Indian star tortoises is a far graver issue

Patterned with star-like figures on their shells, Indian star tortoises can be found in private homes across Asia, where they are commonly kept as pets. One can also see them in religious temples, praised as the living incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. How did they get there? Suspicious of a large-scale illegal international trade of these tortoises that could in fact pose a grave threat to the survival of the Indian Star tortoise, a team of researchers, led by Dr. Neil D’Cruze from Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, University of Oxford, and World Animal Protection, London, spent 17 months investigating the case focusing on India and Thailand. They have their study published in the open-access journal Nature Conservation.

The present study established that at least 55,000 Indian star tortoise individuals are being poached over the span of a year from a single trade hub in India. Helped by a number of herpetologists and wildlife enforcement officials, the researchers have tracked signals about how sophisticated criminal gangs are exploiting “legal loopholes” and people alike, taking advantage of rural communities and urban consumers in India and other Asian countries.

“We were shocked at the sheer scale of the illegal trade in tortoises and the cruelty inflicted upon them,” comments Dr. Neil D’Cruze. “Over 15 years ago wildlife experts warned that the domestic trade in Indian star tortoises needed to be contained before it could become established as an organised international criminal operation.”

“Unfortunately, it seems that our worst nightmare has come true – sophisticated criminal gangs are exploiting both impoverished rural communities and urban consumers alike,” he also added. “Neither group is fully aware how their actions are threatening the welfare and conservation of these tortoises.”

Although deemed of “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List when last formally assessed back in 2000, the Indian star tortoise and its increasing illegal poaching and trading can easily lead to a serious risk of the species’ extinction. Other dangers of such unregulated activities include the introduction of invasive species and diseases.

Having spent a year among a rural hunter-gatherer community, researchers established the collection of at least 55,000 juvenile wild Indian star tortoises between January and December 2014. This is already between three and six times more than the last such record dating from about ten years ago.

Collectors tend to poach juvenile tortoises, but it is not rare for them to also catch adults. Based on the individual’s age and health, the tortoises are later sold to vendors at a price of between 50 and 300 Indian Rupees (INR), or between 1 and 5 USD, per animal. “Therefore, we conservatively estimate (assuming no mortalities) that the collector engagement in this illegal operation has a collective annual value of up to 16,500,000 INR (263,000 USD) for their impoverished communities,” comment the researchers.

Consumers seek the Indian star tortoise for either exotic pets or spiritual purposes. With their star-like radiating yellow patterns splashed with black on their shells, not only is this tortoise species an attractive animal, but it was also found to be considered as a good omen among the locals in the Indian state of Gujarat. During their survey, the researchers found over a hundred hatchlings in a single urban household. However, their owner claimed that none of them was kept with commercial intent, although some of the tortoises were meant for close friends and relatives.

On the other hand, there was a case where the researchers came across a Shiva temple hosting a total of eleven Indian star tortoises. Temple representatives there confirmed that the tortoise is believed to represent an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, one of the three central gods in the religion, recognised as the preserver and protector of the universe.

In India vendors do not show the reptiles in public, but they are made available upon a special request. If paid for in advance, a vendor can also supply a larger quantity of the animals at a price ranging from 1,000 to 3,000 INR (15 to 50 USD) per animal. The researchers managed to see seven captive tortoises in private, including six juveniles and one adult, all in visibly poor health. Disturbingly, in order to reach these vendors, the collected tortoise are usually wrapped in cloths and packed into suitcases. Covered by a ‘mask’ of legal produce such as fruit and vegetables, they are transported to the ‘trade hubs’. They are also smuggled abroad to satisfy consumer demand among the growing middle classes in countries such as Thailand and China.

“Despite being protected in India since the 1970’s, legal ‘loopholes’ in other Asian countries such as Thailand and China appear to undermine India’s enforcement efforts,” explains Mr. Gajender Sharma, India’s Director at World Animal Protection, “They are smuggled out of the country in confined spaces, it’s clear there is little or no concern about the welfare of these reptiles.”

“World Animal Protection is concerned about the suffering that these tortoises endure,” he further notes. “We are dealing with an organised international criminal operation which requires an equally organised international approach to combat it.”

As a result of their study, the authors conclude that more research into both the illegal trafficking of Indian star tortoise and its effects as well as the consumer demand is urgently needed in order to assess, address and subsequently tackle the issue.

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Original source:

D’Cruze N, Singh B, Morrison T, Schmidt-Burbach J, Macdonald DW, Mookerjee A (2015) A star attraction: The illegal trade in Indian Star Tortoises. Nature Conservation 13: 1-19. doi:10.3897/natureconservation.13.5625

New gorgeous coffee tree species from Honduras is critically endangered

Amid the challenging terrain of north-western Honduras, where Dr. Kelly’s team faced rugged and steep forest areas cut across here and there by a few trails, a gorgeous tree with cherry-like fruits was discovered. Being about 10 metres (33 ft) high and covered with cream-colored flowers, it was quickly sorted into the Coffee family (Rubiaceae), but it was its further description that took much longer. Eventually, it was named Sommera cusucoana, with its specific name stemming from its so far only known locality, the Cusuco National Park. The study is available in the open-access journal PhytoKeys.

During a plant diversity study in the Cusuco National Park, conducted by Drs. Kelly, Dietzch and co-workers as a part of a broader survey by Operation Wallacea, an international organisation dealing with biodiversity and conservation management research programmes.

A couple of curious findings in the past decade provide a strong incentive to further work. The place turns out to be not only of high biodiversity, but to also contain rare and hitherto unknown plant and animal species.

For instance, the tree Hondurodendron (from Greek, ‘Honduras Tree’) and the herbaceous plant Calathea carolineae are another two endemic species discovered as a result of the Operation Wallacea survey.

In 2013, two individuals of another unknown, 10-metre high (33 ft) tree with cream-colored flowers and red, cherry-like fruits were found by Daniel Kelly and Anke Dietzsch from Trinity College, University of Dublin, Ireland. The two were aided by local guide Wilmer Lopez.

The multinational collaboration did not stop then and there. Although the scientists quickly figured that the tree belonged to the Coffee family, they needed some additional help to further identify their discovery. Thus, they were joined by two leading specialist in this plant group, first Charlotte Taylor from Missouri Botanical Garden and then David Lorence from the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Hawaii.

It was actually David who was the first to recognise the unknown tree as a member of theSommera genus, a group of nine known species of trees and shrubs. Later, the team decided to name the new plant Sommera cusucoana to celebrate its singular locality, the Cusuco National Park.

“Sadly, there has been extensive logging in the vicinity in recent years, and we fear for the future of our new species,” the authors stressed. “According to the criteria of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), it must be regarded as Critically Endangered.”

“We hope that the publication of this and other discoveries will help to galvanize support for the conservation of this unique and beautiful park and its denizens,” they concluded.

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Original Source:

Lorence DH, Dietzsch AC, Kelly DL (2015) Sommera cusucoana, a new species of Rubiaceaefrom Honduras. PhytoKeys 57: 1-9. doi: 10.3897/phytokeys.57.5339