Plant Sociology renewed: Does an open access society journal about vegetation still make sense in 2020?

In a new editorial, Plant Sociology’s Editor-in-Chief Daniela Gigante and Co-editors Gianni Bacchetta, Simonetta Bagella and Daniele Viciani reflect on the current position and outlook of the official journal of the Italian Society of Vegetation Science (Società Italiana di Scienza della Vegetazione or SISV), now that it has completed its first issue since transitioning to the scientific publisher and technology provider Pensoft and ARPHA Platform earlier this year.

Homepage of the new website of Plant Sociology
(visit: https://plantsociology.arphahub.com/)

The Editorial board briefly analyses the issues around the inaccessibility to scholarly research and suitable scholarly outlets still persisting in our days that impede both readers and authors across branches of science. Naturally, they go on to focus on the situation in vegetation science, where, unfortunately, there are rather few outlets open to original research related to any aspect within vegetation science.

By telling their own experience, but also citing the stories of other similarly positioned society journals, including other journals that have moved to Pensoft’s self-developed ARPHA Platform over the past several years (e.g. Journal of Hymenoptera Research, European Science Editing, Italian Botanist, Vegetation Classification and Survey, Nota Lepidopterologica), the editors present an example how to address the challenges of securing the long-term sustainability and quality for a journal used to being run by a small editorial staff in what they refer to as a “home made” method.

Other society journals that have moved to Pensoft’s self-developed ARPHA Platform over the past several years

In this process, the SISV supported its official scholarly outlet to be published as a “gold open access” journal and ensured that the APCs are kept to a reasonable low in line with its non-profit international business model. Further discounts are available for the members of the Society.

Then, the journal management also reorganised its Editorial Board and welcomed a dedicated Social media team responsible for the increased outreach of published research in the public domain through the channels of Twitter and Facebook

Besides making the publications publicly available as soon as they see the light of day, the journal strongly supports other good open science practices, such as open data dissemination. In Plant Sociology, authors are urged to store their vegetation data in the Global Index of Vegetation-Plot Databases (GIVD). Additionally, the journal is integrated with the Dryad Digital Repository to make it easier for authors to publish, share and, hence, have their data re-used and cited.

The team behind Plant Sociology is perfectly aware of the fact that it is only through easy to find and access knowledge about life on Earth that the right information can reach the right decision-makers, before making the right steps towards mitigating and preventing future environmental catastrophes.

Access the article from: https://doi.org/10.3897/pls2020571/05

“A journal focusing on all aspects of natural, semi-natural and anthropic plant systems, from basic investigation to their modelisation, assessment, mapping, management, conservation and monitoring, is certainly a precious tool to detect environmental unbalances, understand processes and outline predictive scenarios that support decision makers. In this sense, we believe that more and more OA journals focused on biodiversity should find space in the academic editorial world, because only through deep knowledge of processes and functions of a complex planet, humankind can find a way to survive healthy,”

elaborate the editors.

To take the burden of technical journal management off the shoulders of Plant Sociology’s own editorial team, the journal has entrusted Pensoft to provide a user-friendly and advanced submission system, in addition to the production, online publishing and archiving of the accepted manuscripts. Thus, the editorial team is able to focus entirely on the scientific quality of the journal’s content.

“The renewal of Plant Sociology is a challenge that we have undertaken with conviction, aware of the difficulties and pitfalls that characterize the life of a scientific journal today. Entrusting the technical management of the journal to a professional company aims to improve its dissemination and attractiveness, but also to focus our efforts only on scientific content,”

explain the editors.

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About Plant Sociology:

Plant Sociology publishes articles dealing with all aspects of vegetation, from plant community to landscape level, including dynamic processes and community ecology. It favours papers focusing on plant sociology and vegetation survey for developing ecological models, vegetation interpretation, classification and mapping, environmental quality assessment, plant biodiversity management and conservation, EU Annex I habitats interpretation and monitoring, on the ground of rigorous and quantitative measures of physical and biological components. The journal is open to territorial studies at different geographic scale and accepts contributes dealing with applied research, provided they offer new methodological perspectives and a robust, updated vegetation analysis.

Find all pre-2020 issues and articles of Plant Sociology openly available on the former website.

Follow Plant Sociology on Twitter and Facebook.

Scientists challenge notion of binary sexuality with naming of new plant species

A collaborative team of scientists from the US and Australia has named a new plant species from the remote Outback. Bucknell University biology postdoctoral fellow Angela McDonnell and professor Chris Martine led the description of the plant that had confounded field biologists for decades because of the unusual fluidity of its flower form. The discovery, published in the open access journal PhytoKeys, offers a powerful example of the diversity of sexual forms found among plants.

The new species of bush tomato discovered in remote Australia provides a compelling example of the fact that sexuality among Earth’s living creatures is far more diverse – and interesting – than many people likely realize.

Bucknell University postdoctoral fellow Angela McDonnell and biology professor Chris Martine led the study following an expedition last year to relocate populations of the new plant, which were first noted by Australian botanists during the 1970s.

Herbarium specimens from those few earlier collections are peppered with notes regarding the challenge of identifying the sexual condition of this plant, which appeared at various times to be female, male, or bisexual.

 S. plastisexum flower

According to Martine, about 85% of the planet’s quarter-million flowering plant species have flowers that are bisexual – with both male and female organs present in every blossom.

“So that’s already quite different than what some people might expect; but the remaining 15% or so come in all sorts of forms that push the envelope further, including unisexual flowers and (like we see in a plant like Cannabis) whole plants that are either male or female.”

“For the most part, a given plant species will stick to one primary and predictable type of sexual expression,” said Martine “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 DNA studies in Martine’s lab offered proof that these plants were not only all the same thing, but a species not yet described, he, McDonnell, Jason Cantley (San Francisco State University), and Peter Jobson (Northern Territory Herbarium in Alice Springs) set out to hunt for populations along the unpaved Buchanan Highway in the remote northwestern region of the Northern Territory.

The botanists were able to collect numerous new specimens and have now published the new species description in the open-access journal PhytoKeys, choosing the name Solanum plastisexum as a nod to the notable variation exhibited by this plant in its sexual condition.

“This name, for us, is not just a reflection of the diversity of sexual forms seen in this species,” wrote the authors in the article. “It is also a recognition that this plant is a model for the sort of sexual fluidity that is present across the Plant Kingdom – where just about any sort of reproductive form one can imagine (within the constraints of plant development) is present.”

Also known as the Dungowan bush tomato, Solanum plastisexum is a distant cousin of the cultivated eggplant and is a close relative of two other Australian species recently discovered by Martine and colleagues that were also published in PhytoKeysSolanum watneyi, named for Mark Watney, the space botanist of the book/film The Martian; and Solanum jobsonii, a species named last year for S. plastisexum co-author Jobson.

S. plastisexum with scientist Jason Cantley

The scientists hope that the naming of this latest new species turns a spotlight on the fact that nature is full of examples for the myriad ways in which living things behave sexually.

“In a way, S. plastisexum is not just a model for the diversity of sexual/reproductive form seen among plants – it is also evidence that attempts to recognize a “normative” sexual condition among the planet’s living creatures is problematic.”

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

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Bucknell sophomore Heather Wetreich, who measured and analyzed the physical characters of the new species using plants grown from seed in a campus greenhouse, joins McDonnell, Cantley, Jobson, and Martine as a co-author on the publication.

Follow PhytoKeys on Twitter and Facebook for live updates and news across Kingdom Plantae.

Original source:

Citation: 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. https://doi.org/10.3897/phytokeys.124.33526

New fungus found to cause cankers and declines in pistachio trees in Sicily, Italy

Starting in the spring of 2010, farmers from Sicily – the major pistachio production area of Italy – have been reporting a previously unknown disease on the trees. Characterised by cankers and declines, it sometimes leads to the collapse of the entire plant.

When the research team led by Salvatore Vitale, Centro di Ricerca Difesa e Certificazione, Italy, studied plants from a total of 15 pistachio orchards in Catania, Agrigento and Caltanissetta provinces, they identified cankers associated with vascular necrosis and tree decline on twigs, branches and stems, alongside abundant gummosis. There were also localised, sunken lesions with several central cracks. These lesions would deepen into the woody tissue, where discolouration and necrotic tissue were also present.

Additionally, the scientists conducted a series of pathogenicity tests on 5-year-old potted pistachio plants (Pistacia vera), which successfully reproduced the field observations. As a result, a previously unknown pathogenic fungus, which colonises the woody plant tissue, has been isolated.

Timelapse of the symptoms reproduced in a potted plant.

The aetiology of the disease and the description of the new species, named Liberomyces pistaciae, are published in the open access journal MycoKeys. Despite cankers and subsequent decline of pistachio trees having been observed in Sicily for several years, the paper is the first work to successfully determine the causal agent.

“On the basis of the high disease incidence and the frequency of this species observed in several orchards in the last years, we believe that L. pistaciae represents amenace to pistachio production in Sicily,” say the researchers.

Symptoms caused by the newly described pathogenic fungus observed in the field.

Out of the 15 surveyed orchards, the scientists detected the presence of the fungus in ten of them. Most of the observations occurred in the winter period and during late spring, but the authors found the pathogen in asymptomatic trees as well, which suggests that the fungus has a dormant growth phase.

When already symptomatic, the plants begin to exudate gum. Often, the bark on their trunks and/or branches would scale, appearing as if cracking and peeling. The initial pale circular areas present in the bark turn dark and sunken with time. Later, the infected patches were seen to expand in all directions, yet faster along the main axis of the stems, branches and twigs. When the scientists examined beneath the bark, they saw discoloured and necrotic tissues. Once the trunk of the tree is encircled by a canker, they report, the whole plant collapses.

Other symptoms include canopy decline as well as wilting and dying inflorescences and shoots growing from infected branches or twigs.

The newly described fungus is characterised with slowly growing colonies. With time, they turn from white to pale to dark brown with a whitish slightly lobed margin.

The researchers warn that essential hazard for the further spread and promotion of the infection is the use and distribution of infected propagation material taken from nurseries and mechanical injuries or pruning wounds.

Further research and studies are currently in progress aiming to extend the survey to other areas in order to eventually formulate effective disease management strategies.

Symptoms caused by the newly described pathogenic fungus observed in the field.

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Original source:

Vitale S, Aiello D, Guarnaccia V, Luongo L, Galli M, Crous PW, Polizzi G, Belisario A, Voglmayr H (2018) Liberomyces pistaciae sp. nov., the causal agent of pistachio cankers and decline in Italy. MycoKeys 40: 29-51. https://doi.org/10.3897/mycokeys.40.28636

Survival of soil organisms is a wake-up call for biosecurity

Tiny creatures in soil that attack plants have shown the ability to survive for at least three years stored in dry conditions in a recent AgResearch study, giving new insights into the biosecurity threats posed by passenger travel and trade between countries. The research article is published in the open access journal Neobiota.

The findings of the study also add to the discussions about how best to detect these creatures, called nematodes, before they cross borders and potentially reduce yields of important crops and pasture.

Nematodes are very small worm-like organisms. They can be extremely hardy and can have both beneficial and detrimental impacts. The harmful ones, the plant parasitic nematodes (PPN) include species that attack plants reducing their growth and survival.

In the study, funded by AgResearch via the Better Border Biosecurity collaboration, soil collected from a native forest and an organic orchard was stored separately in cupboards at room temperature for a period of 36 months.

Samples were then taken at regular intervals to see if any nematodes could be recovered from the soil and, if they could, whether they were able to infect plant hosts.

“In the study we used different methods to detect nematodes — including a water misting technique to draw them out of the soil, and a baiting method — where we grew white clover and ryegrass plants in pots containing a soil sample,” explain the authors.

“One of the PPN we looked at was the root lesion nematode. What we found was that lesion nematodes were able to successfully invade the roots of ryegrass even after 36 months,” says AgResearch nematologist Lee Aalders.

“They were also able to produce offspring at 13 months. Interestingly, no PPN were recovered from soil stored beyond the 13th month using the three-day misting technique.”

This means that given the right conditions, PPN in soil, which is carried on sea freight, footwear or used machinery, and protected from sun or extreme heat, will survive if they end up near a suitable host plant. This is a result that may not be detected using an extraction test like misting.

For quarantine officials around the world, this result is an important find, as it reinforces the risk associated with soil that, even though it may look sterile, unwanted nematodes may be present and undetected until paired with a suitable host plant.

“In the context of biosecurity, we think that the development of a generic test for plant parasitic nematodes – based around a molecular based bioassay — would enhance the probability of detection of PPNs and, therefore, prevent unwanted incursions beyond the border.”

Earlier this year, another AgResearch study into the survival rates of various transported soil organisms and published in Neobiota concluded that biosecurity risks from soil organisms are to increase with declining transport duration and increasing protection from environmental extremes.

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Original source:

Aalders LT, McNeill MR, Bell NL, Cameron C (2017) Plant parasitic nematode survival and detection to inform biosecurity risk assessment. NeoBiota 36: 1-16. https://doi.org/10.3897/neobiota.36.11418

Invasive alien plant control assessed for the Kruger National Park in South Africa

Along with urban and agricultural encroachment and pollution mitigation, managing invasive alien species is a key intervention needed to protect biodiversity. Unfortunately, on a global scale there are not enough funds to meet the requirements for effective conservation everywhere, which means that scarce funds need to be allocated where they can be used most efficiently.

In order to find out whether the historical measures undertaken at the Kruger National Park in South Africa have been effective and optimised, researchers led by Prof. Brian W. van Wilgen of Stellenbosch University assessed the invasive alien plant control operations in the protected area over several decades. Their findings and recommendations are published in the open access journal Neobiota.

While the first invasive alien plants in the national park, which stretches over two million hectares, were recorded back in 1937, it was not until the mid-1950s that attempts at controlling them began. By the end of the century, the invasive alien plant control program had expanded substantially.

Dense invasions of the West Indian Lantana (Lantana camara) along the Sabie River in the Kruger National Park have required intensive mechanical and chemical control to clear.
Dense invasions of the West Indian Lantana along the Sabie River in the Kruger National Park have required intensive mechanical and chemical control to clear.

However, the scientists found out that despite several invasive alien species having been effectively managed, the overall control effort was characterised by several shortcomings, including inadequate goal-setting and planning, the lack of a sound basis on which to apportion funds, and the absence of any monitoring of control effectiveness.

Furthermore, the researchers report that over one third (40%) of the funding has been spent on species of lower concern. Some of these funds have been allocated so that additional employment could be created onsite, or because of a lack of clear evidence about the impact of certain species.

As a result of their observations, the team concludes three major strategies when navigating invasive alien species control operations.

Firstly, a thorough assessment of the impact of individual species needs to be carried out prior to allocating substantial funds. On the other hand, in case of a new invasion, management needs to be undertaken immediately before any further spread of the population and the subsequent rise in control costs. Monitoring and assessments have to be performed regularly in order to identify any new threats that could potentially be in need of prioritisation over others.

Secondly, the scientists suggest that the criteria used to assign priorities to invasive alien species should be formally documented, so that management can focus on defensible priorities. They propose using a framework employing mechanisms of assessments used in the International Union for Conservation of Nature‘s Global Invasive Species Database.

The authors also point out that re-allocating current funds to species of greater concern is needed for species that cannot be managed via less expensive solutions such as biological control. Taking care of alien plant populations living outside of the park, but in close proximity, is also crucial for the prevention of re-invasions of already cleared areas.

Sunset Dam heavily infested with water lettuce (left). The population was effectively eliminated by a combination of biological and chemical control (right).
Sunset Dam heavily infested with water lettuce (left). The population was effectively eliminated by a combination of
biological and chemical control (right).

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Original source:

van Wilgen BW, Fill JM, Govender N, Foxcroft LC (2017) An assessment of the evolution, costs and effectiveness of alien plant control operations in Kruger National Park, South Africa. NeoBiota 35: 35-59. https://doi.org/10.3897/neobiota.35.12391

Plants cheat too: A new species of fungus-parasitizing orchid

Plants usually produce their own nutrients by using sun energy, but not all of them. A new ‘cheater’ species of orchid from Japan, lives off nutrients obtained via a special kind of symbiosis with fungi. The study was published in the open access journal PhytoKeys.

The new orchid species, named Lecanorchis tabugawaensis, is by far not on its own in its strange feeding habits. The so called mycoheterotrophic plants are found among all plant species groups.

Mycoheterotrophy is a term derived from Greek to describe the bizarre symbiotic relationship between some plants and fungi, where the plant gets nutrients parasitizing upon fungi, rather than using photosynthesis.

Considered a kind of a cheating relationship, these plants are sometimes informally referred to as “mycorrhizal cheaters”.

Having long attracted the curiosity of botanists and mycologists, a common feature of most mycoheterotrophic plants is their extreme scarcity and small size. In addition, most species are hiding in the dark understory of forests, only discoverable during the flowering and fruiting period when aboveground organs appear through the leaf litter.

%e3%82%bf%e3%83%96%e3%82%ac%e3%83%af%e3%83%a0%e3%83%a8%e3%82%a6%e3%83%a9%e3%83%b3008Despite it seems like these ‘cheating’ plants have it all easy for themselves, in reality they are highly dependent on the activities of both the fungi and the trees that sustain them. Such a strong dependency makes this fascinating plant group particularly sensitive to environmental destruction.

“Due to the sensitivity of mycoheterotrophic plants it has long been suggested that their species richness provides a useful indicator of the overall floral diversity of forest habitats. A detailed record of the distribution of these vulnerable plants therefore provides crucial data for the conservation of primary forests,” explains leading author Dr Kenji Suetsugu, Kobe University.

Just discovered, the new orchid species has been already assessed with an IUCN status – Critically Endangered. With a distribution restricted to only two locations along the Tabu and Onna Rivers, Yakushima Island, this fungus-eating cheater might need some conservation attention.

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Original Source:

Suetsugu K, Fukunaga H (2016) Lecanorchis tabugawaensis (Orchidaceae, Vanilloideae), a new mycoheterotrophic plant from Yakushima Island, Japan. PhytoKeys 73: 125-135. doi: 10.3897/phytokeys.73.10019

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

Curious new bush species growing ‘bleeding’ fruits named by a US class of 150 7th graders

A class of 150 US 7th graders has helped select a name for a newly discovered plant, which amazes with its fruits that appear to be bleeding once they are cut open. Bucknell University biology professor Chris Martine and life science teacher Bradley Catherman challenged the students to come up with ideas for what to call the new Australian species last spring.

Looking for a way to engage local youngsters in biodiversity science, Martine scheduled a presentation to the collective 7th grade life science classes at Donald H. Eichhorn Middle School. As the day of his assembly approached, he started to think that the best way to generate interest might be to somehow allow the students to participate in the actual research he was doing in his lab at the time. Only, he knew there were few things he could do with 150 13- and 14-year olds sitting in a gymnasium.

“I emailed Mr. Catherman and I said, ‘How about we ask them to name a new species for me?’ explained Martine. “And then I showed up with live plants, preserved specimens, and my notes from the Outback – and we said, ‘Go ahead, tell us what to call this thing.'”

Nearly a year later, Martine and his co-authors, including two undergraduate students, have published the new species in the open access journal PhytoKeys. The news is coming just in time for the National Teacher Appreciation Day, thus giving tribute to Bradley Catherman, a life science teacher who is not afraid to step beyond the standard curriculum and make that extra step to actually engage his students with their studies.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“I was really impressed with Mr. Catherman’s willingness to work outside of the typical curriculum on this,” said Martine, “In an age when K-12 teachers are increasingly pressured to ‘teach to the test’ he is still willing to think creatively and try something unusual.”

Curiously, the new flowering bush species ‘behaves’ nothing like an ordinary plant. While its unripened fruits are greenish white on the inside when cut open, they start ‘bleeding’ in no more than two minutes. The scientists have even filmed a video short showing how their insides turn bloody scarlet at first, before growing darker, appearing just like clotting blood.

A week after the presentation, each of the students submitted an essay in which they suggested a name, explained the meaning, and translated it into Latin (the language that scientific names are required to be in). Catherman and Martine then selected the two best essays for the inaugural Discovery Prize, a new middle school science award established by Martine and his wife, Rachel.

“As you might imagine, the suggestions ran the gamut from the silly to the scientific,” said Martine. “But for every request to name the species after a favorite food, family pet, or Taylor Swift, there were many suggestions based on the data the students had been provided.”

According to Martine, a number of the students suggested names based on two characteristics of the plant’s berries: the ‘bleeding’ unripened fruits and the dry and bone-hard mature ones. Based on this, the plant will now be known as Solanum ossicruentum, best translated to Australian blood bone tomato, with “ossi” meaning “bone” and “cruentum” meaning “bloody”. The species belongs to the genus of the tomato.mature fruit

The species is native to the sub-arid tropical zone of northern Australia. Martine collected the seeds, he grew his research plants from, during a 2014 expedition to Western Australia and the Northern Territory. However, specimens of the plant had actually been gathered for years before then.

“This is just one of thousands of unnamed Australian species that have been collected by dedicated field biologists and then stored in museums,” said Martine, who studied specimens of the new species in the Northern Territory Herbarium before hunting for it in the bush.

“There is a wealth of museum material just waiting to be given names – and, of course, the organisms represented by those specimens await that recognition, as well as the attention and protection that come with it.”

 

IMG_5089Luckily for Solanum ossicruentum, attention and protection are not too much of an issue.

“Not only is it widespread and fairly abundant,” said Martine, “but one of the healthiest populations occurs in Mirima National Park, a popular and easily-accessible natural area just outside the Western Australian town of Kununurra.”

“Plus, middle schoolers can be tough to deal with. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would mess with this plant, now,” the botanist joked.

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Original source:

Martine CT, Cantley JT, Frawley ES, Butler AR, Jordon-Thaden IE (2016) New functionally dioecious bush tomato from northwestern Australia, Solanum ossicruentum, may utilize “trample burr” dispersal. PhytoKeys 63: 19-29. doi: 10.3897/phytokeys.63.7743

Poorly known South African mountain endemic appears to be a very valuable keystone species

Mountain ecosystems are valuable providers of key resources including water. These ecosystems comprise diverse species, some of which appear to be especially important to the ecosystem’s functioning. In poorly studied mountain environments in biodiversity-rich countries, these keystone species can often be overlooked and undervalued.

Macowania is a group of yellow daisy shrubs occurring in the alpine-like regions of the Drakensberg and highlands of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Yemen. Doctoral student Joanne Bentley, University of Cape Town, studied the genetic relationships between the various Macowaniaspecies and relatives during her Masters degree studies. Her research led to the first collection of the poorly known species Macowania revoluta (known also as the Amathole Macowania) in about 40 years.

The story of Macowania revoluta is published in the open access journal PhytoKeys.

The Amathole Macowania appears to be an exceptionally important keystone species. This is because it forms one of the dominant members of the valuable mountain wetland communities and, thus, likely plays a very important role in wetland functioning and soil protection.

It appears to be somewhat tolerant of woody alien species and a valuable pioneer species protecting its native co-habitants. Plants like this one buffer more sensitive plants from sudden changes in environment (such as forestry, alien invasion and fire), and provide an opportunity for the ecosystem to ‘bounce back’.

113693Restricted to the Amathole mountains in the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa, the Amathole Macowania was first collected sometime before 1870 by the pioneer botanist Peter MacOwan, and was well documented until around 1949. After that, except for one record in 1976, the plant quietly disappeared.

“This was the first Macowania species that we found during our fieldtrip across the greater Drakensberg. We had combed several of the localities where it had been collected before; mostly from several decades ago, some from more than a century ago!” says Joanne Bentley. “We became increasingly doubtful about finding the plant, given the heavily transformed plantation landscape.”

“Ready to throw in the towel, we came across a peaty area on the margins of the forest and decided on one last investigation. We were lucky: it was growing prolifically! It was a very special moment.”

As it often happens, exciting discoveries come in bulk. Joanne’s discovery of the plant in July 2010 was followed by another record in October 2010, by the Curator of the Schonland Herbarium, Tony Dold. In 2014 at least three additional localities were recorded along the popular Amathole Hiking Trail by Dr Ralph Clark, Rhodes University. A further record was added in 2015 by Vathi Zikishe, South African National Biodiversity Institute. The verdict: this is a very localised but patchily abundant species, and an ecologically valuable component of the Amathole flora.

Listed as ‘Data Deficient’ in the Threated Plants List for South Africa, this string of modern records of the species also provided the first opportunity to get an idea of its ecology and abundance, as well as the first photographs.

“The practical value of this species in local land restoration projects still needs to be explored, but the opportunities are exciting,” says Dr Clark. “The discovery that this obscure endemic mountain plant is not only abundant, but is, in fact, fulfilling an extremely important ecological role, highlights the value of detailed mountain biodiversity research in southern Africa.”

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Original source

Clark VR, Bentley J, Dold AP, Zikishe V, Barker NP (2016) The rediscovery of the Great Winterberg endemic Lotononis harveyi B.-E.van Wyk after 147 years, and notes on the poorly known Amathole endemic Macowania revoluta Oliv. (southern Great Escarpment, South Africa). PhytoKeys 62: 1-13. doi: 10.3897/phytokeys.62.8348

South African endemic mountain plant gives itself up after 147-year absence

South Africa’s mountains are essential to the economic well-being of the country, providing many goods and services essential for social and economic prosperity. However, the biodiversity value of these mountains is still poorly understood. This is exemplified by the large number of plant species still only known from one or two collections made well over a century ago.

The Great Escarpment Biodiversity Research Programme, led by Prof. Nigel Barker, University of Pretoria, has been systematically documenting plant diversity and endemism along much of the Great Escarpment – southern Africa’s principal mountain system.

“This ‘un-sexy’ foot-slogging research has yielded a number of valuable discoveries and rediscoveries, highlighting the biodiversity value of these mountains,” points lead author Dr Ralph Clark, Rhodes University, South Aftica.

One of these rediscoveries is a plant last seen only by one more person: Mrs Elizabeth Barber, one of South Africa’s finest women botanists of the 19th century. Mrs Barber has been a regular correspondent with Charles Darwin and has provided material of South African plants to numerous institutions in Europe.

“Her discovery – Lotononis harveyi, also known under the common name ‘Mrs Barber’s Beauty’ in her honour, was published in 1862, but unfortunately, as her specimen did not include a date, we do not know the actual year in which she discovered it,” he explains. “What we do know, is that it mysteriously disappeared for at least 147 years, despite attempts to relocate it.”harveyi img2

In 2009, Dr Ralph Clark undertook an extensive collecting trip to the Great Winterberg, where he accidently stumbled across a flowering specimen of ‘Mrs Barber’s Beauty’. It was only in 2014, however, that the plant was properly recognised for what it was, and a second trip was quickly planned.

The results of the second trip included the first photographs and ecological records of this apparently scarce species. Dr Clark’s results have been published in the open access journal PhytoKeys.

“There are currently only six known individuals of this species. The main limiting factors appear to be fire and grazing, the plants only occurring where these two prominent ecological actors have been excluded for some time,” notes Dr Clark.

“However, with much of these mountains still poorly explored by biodiversity scientists, it is possible that additional individuals will come to light. For now the species will be regarded as Critically Endangered.”

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Original source:

Clark VR, Bentley J, Dold AP, Zikishe V, Barker NP (2016) The rediscovery of the Great Winterberg endemic Lotononis harveyi B.-E.van Wyk after 147 years, and notes on the poorly known Amathole endemic Macowania revolutaOliv. (southern Great Escarpment, South Africa). PhytoKeys 62: 1-13. doi: 10.3897/phytokeys.62.8348