Forgotten tropical plants rediscovered after more than 100 years

nasa hastata flower

In a collaborative effort, botanists from Germany, Ecuador, Peru and Costa Rica, along with botanical enthusiasts, have rediscovered plants deep in the tropical Andes that had been lost to science for up to 100 years. (flower NASA hastata.) Credit: b. Gonzalez

Botanists and plant lovers have rediscovered the long-lost plant classify in the tropical Andes, using the iNaturalist citizen science platform to uncover hidden biodiversity and emphasize the critical role of botany in conservation efforts.

Deep in the tropical Andes, there are plants that have been discovered and then forgotten; Plants we knew almost nothing about. Now, thanks to the joint efforts of botanists from Germany, Ecuador, Peru and Costa Rica and amateur plant enthusiasts, these plants have been rediscovered, some more than 100 years later. The results have been described in the open access journal Plant keys.

These rediscovered plants belong to NASA, a genus in the Blazing Star family (Loasaceae) that has long been a headache for scientists because its delicate but itchy leaves make it difficult to collect. Most are rare, highly endemic, and only present for short periods of time, making them unlikely to end up in the herbarium collection.

Technological aid to rediscover plants

Fortunately, modern scientists do not have to rely on herbs as their sole source of material and evidence. Thanks to the advent of global networks and the increasing use of free data repositories, there is now plenty of biodiversity data available for use and easily accessible, for example in the form of geo-referenced records and images. Citizen science platform iNaturalistwhere users can, among other things, publish photographic records of events, has turned out to be a valuable tool for biodiversity scientists, playing an important role in the rediscovery of these Andean plants.

A flowering branch of NASA Colani

flowering branch of NASA Colany. Credit: AA Wong Sato

Notable rediscovery

A particularly notable species, NASA ColanyIt was only recorded once, in 1978, until the research team discovered it Photo from 2019. This paucity of records may have something to do with the fact that the plant grows in a largely inaccessible area: in a cloud forest in the buffer zone of Peru’s Cordillera de Colan National Reserve, at an elevation of 2,605 meters (8,550 feet). .

NASA flower ferox

flower NASA Ferox. Credit: E. Segovia

Another species had not been reported in nearly 130 years when iNaturalist users confirmed its existence in 2022 by uploading photos. NASA Ferox It was known for centuries, but did not receive its scientific description until the year 2000. It is surprising that this species has not been reported for so long, even more so given the numerous botanical expeditions that have been carried out in the general area,” he wrote. The researchers in their paper In fact, there are only a small population of about ten fertile plants n.ferox They are found, always growing plants in sheltered places such as rock crevices or at the base of shrubs.

Nasa humboltiana is a subspecies humboltiana

flower NASA Humboldtiana Subspecies com. humboldtiana. Credit: X. Cornejo

Exciting rediscovery and the role of the naturalist

Remarkably, the typical form of NASA Humboldtiana named NASA Humboldtiana Subspecies com. humboldtiana It was rediscovered 162 years later, when a research team found a specimen in preserved remains of the Andean mountain forest in Chimborazo Province, Ecuador.

But perhaps the most exciting discovery came when the team discovered species considered extinct in the wild. two kinds of NASAhe is called N. hastata And n. SolariaThey are both thought to share this fate, and are both from the Peruvian province of Lima, an area that has been sampled relatively well, given its proximity to the national capital. Until very recently, both species remained “(or nearly) unknown in the wild”. Previous attempts to collect the species near where it was found some 100 years ago had failed, and she needed iNaturalist’s help to detect that it was still present in the area.

NASA Solaria

NASA Solaria. Credit: P. Gonzalez

NASA hastata It was recently rediscovered, after photographs of live plants taken by the sister of one of the authors surfaced for the first time. Since then only a few plants have been reported at two locations, about 7 kilometers apart. Similarly, a few dozen plants have been found so far n. Solaria They occur in four small groups of traces in the remnants of forests that once covered larger areas in this region.

NASA hastata

NASA hastata. Credit: P. Gonzalez

Botanical contributions and future projections

The notes uploaded to iNaturalist also revealed important information about another species, NASA Ramirezproviding the first images of living plants from Ecuador and the first data on their exact location.

“All of these discoveries serve as a reminder that even well-studied areas harboring diversity can easily remain neglected and unexplored, and point to the role of botanists in documenting biodiversity which is a prerequisite for any conservation effort.” says lead author Thilo Henning of the Leibniz Center for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF).

“We hope that as more scientists and members of the public contribute to the database, and as more specialists participate in curation, more undescribed or ‘long-lost’ taxa will be found.” Our examples for rediscovery NASA Ferox After 130 years and NASA hastata 100 years later, both were found on iNaturalist, which confirms the point.

Reference: “When Absence of Evidence Is Not Evidence of Absence: NASA (Loasaceae) Rediscoverys from Peru and Ecuador, Contribution of Community Science Networks” By Thilo Henning, Rafael Acuña-Castillo, Xavier Cornejo, Paul González, Edgar Segovia, Akira Armando Wong Sato, Maximilian Wigend, June 30, 2023, Available here. Plant keys.
DOI: 10.3897/phytokeys.229.100082

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