In the Atlantic Forest, the lowland tapir is at risk of extinction

Lowland tapir populations in the Atlantic Forest in South America are at risk of almost complete disappearance, scientists have estimated. The main long-term threat to their well-being is population isolation, as hunting and highways keep populations away from each other. Urgent measures need to be taken to connect isolated populations and ensure the long-term conservation of tapirs, warn the authors of a new study published in the open-access journal Neotropical Biology and Conservation.

Lowland tapir populations in the Atlantic Forest in South America are at risk of almost complete disappearance, scientists have estimated. Weighing up to 250 kg, the animal can adapt to most habitats in South America—but its populations continue to decline across its range.

Today, its survival is seriously threatened: it can be found in just 1.78% of its original distributional range in the Atlantic Forest biome, which covers parts of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. The main long-term threat to its well-being is population isolation, as hunting and highways keep populations away from each other.

Lowland tapir. Photo by Patricia Medici

Urgent measures need to be taken to connect isolated populations and ensure the long-term conservation of tapirs, warn the authors of a new study on the distribution and conservation status of lowland tapirsin the South American Atlantic Forest, published in the open-access journal Neotropical Biology and Conservation

The research was done by Kevin Flesher, PhD, researcher at the Biodiversity Study Center, Michelin Ecological Reserve, Bahia, and Patrícia Medici, PhD, coordinator of the Lowland Tapir Conservation Initiative, a project developed by the Institute for Ecological Research in Brazil, and chair of the Tapir Specialist Group at the Species Survival Commission in the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

 “Of the 48 tapir populations identified during the study, between 31.3% and 68.8% are demographically unviable (low number of individuals), and between 70.8% and 93.8% of the populations are genetically unviable (low gene flow). Only 3-14 populations are still viable in the long run when both criteria are considered. The evidence suggests that with the appropriate conservation actions, the lowland tapir could be broadly distributed throughout the Atlantic Forest,” says Kevin Flesher. 

Lowland tapir. Photo by Alexander Blanco

“Tapirs have low reproductive potential, including a long reproductive cycle with the birth of just one young after a gestation period of 13-14 months and intervals of up to three years between births. Our populational simulations clearly show how, in the case of small populations, even the loss of a single individual per year can result in rapid extinction of an entire local population,” adds Medici. 

Lowland tapir. Photo by Bill Konstant

Kevin Flesher dedicated 15 years to visiting 93 reserves in the Atlantic Forest, talking to people and analyzing 217 datasets, before he compiled the necessary data to design conservation actions that can ensure the survival of tapirs in the area. 

The states of São Paulo and Paraná in Brazil have the largest number of remaining populations: 14 and 10, respectively. The two largest populations are in Misiones, Argentina, and in the neighboring Iguaçu and Turvo reserves, in Paraná and Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.

“As far as our knowledge goes, there is no evidence of movement of tapirs between these populations,” points out Medici.

The distance between population fragments, however, is not what is stopping them.

“The central problem is the multiple threats they face while crossing the habitat,” explains Flesher. Highways are one major obstacle that limits the access of tapirs to forests with adequate habitat. “For example, the heavy traffic on highway BR-101 (which cuts the Brazilian Atlantic Forest from North to South) is a death trap to wildlife. Tapirs often die when attempting to cross it,” explains Medici. 

The construction of highways and expansion of traffic in and around natural areas is a serious threat to large tapir populations that might otherwise have the chance to thrive, like those in Misiones, Argentina, and Serra do Mar, Brazil. 

“Roadkill is a significant cause of death in six of the eight reservations in which highways cross tapir populations, and the expansion of the roadway grid in the country threatens to cause population fragmentation in at least four populations,” points out Flesher. This is why finding ways to allow tapirs to cross highways safely is an urgent conservation priority.

Lowland tapir. Photo by Patricia Medici

The results of the study, however, give cause for “cautious optimism” for the future of tapirs in the area: after decades of dedicated conservation efforts, the situation is starting to improve. 

“Despite these continuing challenges for tapir conservation, most populations appear to be stable or increasing and the conservation outlook for the species is better than several decades ago, when the first efforts to protect the species began,” Kevin Flesher concludes.

Research article:

Flesher KM, Medici EP (2022) The distribution and conservation status of Tapirus terrestris in the South American Atlantic Forest. Neotropical Biology and Conservation 17(1): 1-19. https://doi.org/10.3897/neotropical.17.e71867

Under Extinction Pressure: Rare Australian bee found after 100 years

A widespread field search for a rare Australian native bee (Pharohylaeus lactiferus) that had not been recorded for almost a century found the species has been there all along – but is probably under increasing pressure to survive. Prior to this study, only six individuals had been found, with the last published record of this Australian endemic bee species, from 1923 in Queensland.

Male Pharohylaeus lactiferus bee. Photo by James Dorey.

A widespread field search for a rare Australian native bee (Pharohylaeus lactiferus) that had not been recorded for almost a century found the species has been there all along – but is probably under increasing pressure to survive. Prior to this study, only six individuals had been found, with the last published record of this Australian endemic bee species, from 1923 in Queensland.

“This is concerning because it is the only Australian species in the Pharohylaeus genus and nothing was known of its biology,”

Flinders University researcher and biological sciences PhD candidate James Dorey says in the new scientific paper in the peer-reviewed, open-access Journal of Hymenoptera Research.

The ‘hunt’ began after bee experts Olivia Davies and Dr Tobias Smith raised the possibility of the species’ extinction based on the lack of any recent sightings. The ‘rediscovery’ followed an extensive sampling of 225 general and 20 targeted sampling sites across New South Wales and Queensland.

Along with extra bee and vegetation recordings from the Atlas of Living Australia, which lists 500 bee species in New South Wales and 657 in Queensland, the Flinders researchers sought to assess the latest levels of true diversity, warning that habitat loss and fragmentation of Australia’s rainforests, along with wildfires and climate change, are likely to put extinction pressure on this and other invertebrate species.  

“Three populations of P. lactiferous were found by sampling bees visiting their favoured plant species along much of the Australian east coast, suggesting population isolation,”

Mr Dorey reports.

Highly fragmented habitat and potential host specialisation might explain the rarity of P. lactiferus.

Additionally, the scientists remind of previous findings that Australia has already cleared more than 40% of its forests and woodlands since European colonisation, leaving much of the remainder fragmented and degraded.

“My geographical analyses used to explore habitat destruction in the Wet Tropics and Central Mackay Coast bioregions indicate susceptibility of Queensland rainforests and P. lactiferus populations to bushfires, particularly in the context of a fragmented landscape,”

Mr Dorey says.

The study also warns the species is even more vulnerable as they appear to favour specific floral specimens and were only found near tropical or sub-tropical rainforest – a single vegetation type.

“Collections indicate possible floral and habitat specialisation with specimens only visiting firewheel trees (Stenocarpus sinuatu), and Illawarra flame trees (Brachychiton acerifolius), to the exclusion of other available floral resources.”

Known populations of P. lactiferus remain rare and susceptible to habitat destruction (e.g. caused by changed land use or events such as fires), the paper concludes.

“Future research should aim to increase our understanding of the biology, ecology and population genetics of P. lactiferus.”

Female Pharohylaeus lactiferus bee. Photo by James Dorey.

“If we are to understand and protect these wonderful Australian species, we really need to increase biomonitoring and conservation efforts, along with funding for the museum curation and digitisation of their collections and other initiatives,”  

Mr Dorey says.

Research paper:

Dorey JB (2021) Missing for almost 100 years: the rare and potentially threatened bee, Pharohylaeus lactiferus (Hymenoptera, Colletidae). Journal of Hymenoptera Research 81: 165-180. https://doi.org/10.3897/jhr.81.59365

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Revolutionary method could bring us much closer to the description of hyperdiverse faunas

A novel approach relying on a short sequence of mitochondrial DNA in conjunction with a lateral image of the holotype specimen was proposed to greatly accelerate species identification and description, especially when it comes to hyperdiverse taxa, such as parasitic wasps.

At today’s rate, it could take another two millennia for science to document all currently existing species of multicellular life

Two hundred and sixty-one years ago, Linnaeus formalized binomial nomenclature and the modern system of naming organisms. Since the time of his first publication, taxonomists have managed to describe 1.8 million of the estimated 8 to 25 million extant species of multicellular life, somewhere between 7% and 22%. At this rate, the task of treating all species would be accomplished sometime before the year 4,000. In an age of alarming environmental crises, where taking measures for the preservation of our planet’s ecosystems through efficient knowledge is becoming increasingly urgent, humanity cannot afford such dawdling.

“Clearly something needs to change to accelerate this rate, and in this publication we propose a novel approach that employs only a short sequence of mitochondrial DNA in conjunction with a lateral image of the holotype specimen,”

explain the researchers behind a new study, published in the open-access journal Deutsche Entomologische Zeitschrift (DEZ).
Description rate of parasitic wasps species (superfamily
Ichneumonoidea).
Data from Taxapad (Yu et al. 2016).

In standardized practices, it is required that experts conduct plenty of time- and labor-consuming analyses, in order to provide thorough descriptions of both the morphology and genetics of individual species, as well as a long list of characteristic features found to differentiate each from any previously known ones. However, the scientists argue, at this stage, it is impossible to pinpoint distinct morphological characters setting apart all currently known species from the numerous ones not yet encountered. To make matters worse, finding human and financial resources for performing this kind of detailed research is increasingly problematic.

This holds especially true when it comes to hyperdiverse groups, such as ichneumonoid parasitoid wasps: a group of tiny insects believed to comprise up to 1,000,000 species, of which only 44,000 were recognised as valid, according to 2016 data. In their role of parasitoids, these wasps have a key impact on ecosystem stability and diversity. Additionally, many species parasitise the larvae of commercially important pests, so understanding their diversity could help resolve essential issues in agriculture.

Meanwhile, providing a specific species-unique snippet of DNA alongside an image of the specimen used for the description of the species (i.e. holotype) could significantly accelerate the process. By providing a name for a species through a formal description, researchers would allow for their successors to easily build on their discoveries and eventually reach crucial scientific conclusions.

“If this style were to be adopted by a large portion of the taxonomic community, the mission of documenting Earth’s multicellular life could be accomplished in a few generations, provided these organisms are still here,”

say the authors of the study.

To exemplify their revolutionary approach, the scientists use their paper to also describe a total of 18 new species of wasps in two genera (Zelomorpha and Hemichoma) known from Área de Conservación Guanacaste, Costa Rica. Currently, the team works on the treatment of related species, which still comprise only a portion of the hundreds of thousands that remain unnamed.

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Original source:

Meierotto S, Sharkey MJ, Janzen DH, Hallwachs W, Hebert PDN, Chapman EG, Smith MA (2019) A revolutionary protocol to describe understudied hyperdiverse taxa and overcome the taxonomic impediment. Deutsche Entomologische Zeitschrift 66(2): 119-145. https://doi.org/10.3897/dez.66.34683

Tiger geckos in Vietnam could be the next species sold into extinction, shows a new survey

The endemic reptiles are already proposed to be listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora

While proper information about the conservation status of tiger gecko species is largely missing, these Asian lizards are already particularly vulnerable to extinction, as most of them have extremely restricted distribution. Furthermore, they have been facing severe declines over the last two decades, mostly due to overcollection for the international exotic pet market. Such is the case of the Cat Ba Tiger Gecko, whose tiny populations can only be found on Cat Ba Island and a few islands in the Ha Long Bay (Vietnam).

In their study, a Vietnamese-German research team, led by PhD candidate Hai Ngoc Ngo of the Vietnam National Museum of Nature in Hanoi, provide an overview of the evidence for domestic and international trade in tiger gecko species and update the information about the abundance and threats impacting the subpopulations of the Vietnamese Cat Ba Tiger Gecko in Ha Long Bay.

By presenting both direct and online observations, interviews and existing knowledge, the scientists point out that strict conservation measures and regulations are urgently needed for the protection and monitoring of all tiger geckos. The research article is published in the open-access journal Nature Conservation.

Cat Ba tiger gecko (Goniurosaurus catbaensis) in its natural habitat. Photo by Hai Ngoc Ngo.

Tiger geckos are a genus (Goniurosaurus) of 19 species native to Vietnam, China and Japan. Many of them can only be found within a single locality, mountain range or archipelago. They live in small, disjunct populations, where the population from Ha Long Bay is estimated at about 120 individuals. Due to demands in the international pet trade in the last two decades, as well as habitat destruction, some species are already considered extinct at the localities where they had originally been discovered.

However, it was not until very recently that some species of these geckos received attention from the regulatory institutions in their home countries, leading to the prohibition of their collection without a permit. Only eight tiger geckos have so far had their species conservation status assessed for the IUCN Red List. Not surprisingly, all of them were classified as either Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered. Nevertheless, none is currently listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which could be the only efficient and reliable method to monitor, regulate and police the trade of the species on a global scale.

“Tiger geckos are neither sufficiently protected by law nor part of conservation programmes, due to the lack of substantial knowledge on the species conservation status and probably due to the general lack of public as well as political interest in biodiversity conservation,” they explain. “To date, exact impacts of trade on the species cannot be identified, as data of legal trade are only recorded for species listed in the CITES Appendices”.

During their survey, the researchers tracked local traders in possession of wild-caught tiger geckos representing all five Vietnamese species en route to foreign exotic pet markets, mainly in the United States, the European Union and Japan. The species were also frequently found to be sold in local pet shops in Vietnam, as well as being offered via various online platforms and social media networks like Facebook.

Having spoken to local dealers in Vietnam, the team found the animals were traded via long and complex chains, beginning from local villagers living within the species’ distribution range, who catch the geckos and sell them to dealers for as little as US$4 – 5 per individual. Then, a lizard either ends up at a local shop with a US$7 – 25 price tag or is either transported by boat or by train to Thailand or Indonesia, from where it is flown to the major overseas markets and sold for anywhere between US$100 and 2,000, depending on its rarity. However, many of these delicate wild animals do not arrive alive at their final destination, as their travels include lengthy trips in overfilled boxes under poor conditions with no food and water.

Indeed, although the researchers reported a large quantity of tiger geckos labelled as captive-bred in Europe, it turns out that their availability is far from enough to meet the current demands.

In conclusion, the team provides a list of several recommendations intended to improve the conservation of the Asian geckos: (1) inclusion of all tiger geckos in the Appendices of CITES; (2) assessment of each species for the IUCN Red List; (3) concealment of any currently unknown localities; and (4) improvement/establishment of coordinated ex-situ breeding programmes for all species.

Signboard handed over to the Ha Long Bay Management Department to point to the threats and conservation need of the Cat Ba tiger gecko in English and Vietnamese languages.

The inclusion of all tiger gecko species from China and Vietnam in CITES Appendix II was recently proposed jointly by the European Union, China and Vietnam and is to be decided upon at the Conference of the parties (CoP18) in May-June 2019, held in Sri Lanka.

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Original source:

Ngo HN, Nguyen TQ, Phan TQ, van Schingen M, Ziegler T (2019) A case study on trade in threatened Tiger Geckos (Goniurosaurus) in Vietnam including updated information on the abundance of the Endangered G. catbaensisNature Conservation 33: 1-19. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.32.33590

Wildlife on the highway to hell: Roadkill in the largest wetland, Pantanal region, Brazil

Adult individual of Erythrolamprus aesculapii captured in roadside habitats of BR-262. Photo by Michel Passos

Scientists provide crucial data to prompt further conservation and safety measures at the notorious BR-262 highway

Having systematically monitored wild animals killed on the Brazilian federal highway BR-262, which passes through the Pantanal region, a research team from the Federal University of Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil, published their data concerning birds and reptiles in the open access journal Check List.

Apart from information crucial for future conservation activities, the paper provides new and unexpected roadkill records, including the Black-and-white hawk-eagle.

Authored by Wagner Fischer and his colleagues Raquel Faria de Godoi and Antonio Conceição Paranhos Filho, the article is part of the first dataset of vertebrate mortality in the region. A separate paper of theirs is planned to present the data concerning mammals gathered during the same survey, which took place between 1996 and 2000.

An adult individual of Xenodon matogrossensis captured in roadside habitats of BR-262. Photo by Cyntia Santos.

Having mapped bird and reptile roadkill on the highway between the cities of Campo Grande and Corumbá in the Brazilian savannah, the team reports a total of 930 animals representing 29 reptile and 47 bird species. In addition, the data provide the first regional geographic record of the colubrid snake Hydrodynastes bicinctus.

The researchers conclude that the species richness observed in the road-killed animals clearly confirms earlier concerns about wildlife-vehicle collisions in the Pantanal region. Such accidents lead to long-term and chronic impact on both wildlife and road safety.

“Mitigation of wildlife-vehicle collisions on this road continues to claim urgency for biodiversity conservation and for human and animal safety and care,” say the authors.

“For managers, the main goal should be to determine target species of greatest concern, focusing on those vulnerable to local extinction or those which represent major risks of serious accidents.”

In the past, the team’s dataset had already been used as a guide to road fauna management. In particular, it was used by government road managers when planning animal overpassess and underpassess equipped with roadside fences as part of the long-term project Programa Estrada Viva: BR-262. So far, however, only some of the less efficient safety methods, such as road signs and lowered speed limits, have been applied at the most critical points.

Over the past several years, a few independent studies have been conducted to monitor roadkill in a similar manner. Two of them (2010 and 2017) looked into mammal-vehicle collisions, while the third recorded reptiles and birds as well. All of them serve to demonstrate that BR-262 continues to be a major cause for the regional wildlife mortality, which in turn increases the risks of serious accidents.

“BR-262 keeps its inglorious fame as a highway to hell for human and wild lives,” points out lead author Wagner Fischer.

Roadkill on the BR-262 highway, Pantanal region, Brazil. Photos by Ricardo Fraga and Wagner Fischer.

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Original source:

Fischer W, Godoi RF, Filho ACP (2018) Roadkill records of reptiles and birds in Cerrado and Pantanal landscapes. Check List 14(5): 845-876. https://doi.org/10.15560/14.5.845

Light at the end of the tunnel: Restored forest now shelters dozens of endangered species

During the last twenty years, scientists worked hard to protect and restore the scattered patches of a dilapidated forest and its surroundings of agricultural and fallow vegetation in southern Benin.

With the help of their locally recruited assistants, Peter Neuenschwander, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Benin, and Aristide Adomou, University of Abomey-Calavi, Benin, successfully thinned out the alien timber growing there and introduced 253 species, whose seeds and plantlets they had managed to collect from the last remnants of the original forest. Their research article is published in the open access journal Nature Conservation.

The team collecting seeds and plantlets in a neighbouring rainforestToday, the rehabilitated forest in Drabo harbours about 600 species of plants and constitutes a sanctuary for many animals, including the critically endangered and endemic red-bellied monkey.

Over the course of the last two decades, pantropical weedy species declined, while West-African forest species increased in numbers. Of the former, fifty-two species, mostly trees, shrubs and lianas, are listed as threatened – more than those in any other existing forest in Benin. Furthermore, some of the critically endangered species amongst them can be found exclusively in the last small, often sacred forests in Benin, which while covering merely 0.02% of the national territory, harbour 64% of all critically endangered plant species.

“The biodiversity richness of the rehabilitated forests of Drabo now rivals that of natural rainforest remnants of the region,” note the authors.

The newly restored forest in Drabo is relatively easy to access due to its proximity to large towns. It is intended to become an educational and research centre maintained by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture. In fact, it already serves as an exemplary forest in the region.

With their initiative, the scientists and their followers demonstrate that by involving local communities and taking their customs into consideration, the safety of exposed precious ecosystems, even if located in a densely populated area, can be effectively assured.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Original source:

Neuenschwander P, Adomou AC (2017) Reconstituting a rainforest patch in southern Benin for the protection of threatened plants. Nature Conservation 21: 57-82. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.21.13906

Lion conservation requires effective international cooperation

Lions belong to the world’s most charismatic megafauna. However, lion numbers and range have declined alarmingly over the last two decades.

“To turn the tide, international cooperation is crucial,” says a team of lawyers, conservation biologists and social scientists.

In their recently published review article in the journal Nature Conservation, they assess the current and potential future role of international treaties regarding lion conservation.

Kruger 1To conduct this study, international wildlife lawyers Arie Trouwborst and Melissa Lewis from Tilburg Law School in the Netherlands teamed up with lion experts David Macdonald, Amy Dickman and other scientists from the University of Oxford‘s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) – the research group that made Cecil the lion famous.

Their analysis clearly shows the importance of various global and regional treaties for lion conservation.

For instance, dozens of important lion areas have received international protection under treaties like the World Heritage Convention and the Ramsar Wetlands Convention, whereas trade in lion bones and hunting trophies is regulated through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

“There is still much room for improvement in the way the international commitments of lion range states are applied on the ground,” the review notes.

However, the authors conclude that it is worthwhile to invest in such improvements, and stress the importance of strategies involving the local people who live alongside lions. The review offers many concrete recommendations for optimising the contributions of the various treaties to lion conservation.

A particularly important recommendation is to formally list lions under the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS). A proposal to list lions is on the agenda of the next intergovernmental summit of the parties to the CMS in October this year.

As lead author Arie Trouwborst explains:

“Listing the lion would raise the profile of this iconic species, and would moreover enable the CMS to provide a framework for coordinating and assisting conservation efforts in the 25 countries where lions still occur in the wild.”Imfolozi 3

According to David Macdonald, Director of WildCRU:

“Biology is necessary, but not sufficient, to inform and deliver wildlife conservation. Our approach at the WildCRU in Oxford is holistic – this new partnership with international lawyers is a symbol of our determination to embrace knowledge from every discipline, leaving no stone unturned in our quest to conserve these iconic animals.”

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Original source:

Trouwborst A, Lewis M, Burnham D, Dickman A, Hinks A, Hodgetts T, Macdonald E, Macdonald D (2017) International law and lions (Panthera leo): understanding and improving the contribution of wildlife treaties to the conservation and sustainable use of an iconic carnivore. Nature Conservation 21: 83-128. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.21.13690

Nature Conservation Special: Guidelines for the monitoring of beetles protected in Europe

In a follow-up to a recent special issue, 8 research articles outline a set of verified guidelines for the monitoring of 5 saproxylic beetle species listed in the Habitats Directive

In a set of eight research publications, scientists tested various methods for the monitoring of five European saproxylic (i.e. dependent on dead wood) beetle species protected by the Habitats Directive. The aim of their work was to test and propose a standard method for each species. A key role in this conservation initiative was played by citizen scientists who made it possible for sufficient data to be collected within a significantly shorter time frame.

The special issue “Guidelines for the monitoring of the saproxylic beetles protected in Europe” is the second in succession published in the open access journal Nature Conservation. Both are produced within the framework of the European Union’s LIFE Programme Project “Monitoring of insects with public participation” (LIFE11 NAT/IT/000252 MIPP) and were presented at the European Workshop held in Mantova in May 2017. Colonel Franco Mason, project manager of the MIPP project, notes that the workshop was aimed primarily at monitoring of saproxylic beetles.

While the first article collection focused on reporting recent findings derived from monitoring surveys across the European Union, the papers in the latest issue are devoted to testing various methods for the monitoring of five selected species of protected beetles, in order to determine the most efficient methods and, subsequently, to propose them as standard methods.

12761_Public participation 2nd tweetCuriously, the public participation in the project was not limited to ecology and entomology semi-experts and aficionados. The team specifically targeted children when recruiting volunteers. One of the dissemination activities of the MIPP project was the “MIPP-iacciono gli insetti” (translated to “I like insects” from Italian), where 3000 students from primary to high school undertook 60 activities per year in order to learn how to locate and identify the target insects.

“Participation by children in environmental education programmes seems to have a great impact on their attitude and behaviour,” notes Giuseppe Carpaneto, Roma Tre University and his co-authors in their introductory article.

“Some studies have shown that children who participate in such programmes are more concerned about nature, want to learn more about environmental issues and are more prone to follow pro-environmental behaviour (e.g. waste recycling) than children who did not participate”.

In another article, included in the special issue, Fabio Mosconi of the Italian Agricultural Research Council and Sapienza University of Rome and his co-authors tested whether a specially trained Golden Retriever could locate the threatened hermit beetle faster and more efficiently than scientists using the standard “wood mould sampling” method.

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Additional information:

About the Life project MIPP

The main objective of the project MIPP is to develop and test methods for the monitoring of five beetle species listed in Annexes II and IV of the Habitats Directive (Osmoderma eremitaLucanus cervusCerambyx cerdoRosalia alpinaMorimus funereus).

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