New entries to the catalogue of life on Earth
One dainty Begonia from mountainous Bhutan, another from Bolivia and a third from Colombia. These are just three of the botanical gems taking their place in the line-up of species described as new to science by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) and partner institutes. Meanwhile, others wait patiently in the wings to take their place in the catalogue of life.
Together the trio of Begonia menchunaensis, Begonia galea and Begonia pseudodendron bring the total number of species in this mega-diverse genus to 2,123. The overall number continues to rise steadily, just two years after reaching the 2,000 milestone. The trend is set to continue, as understanding of global habitats increases.
Dr Mark Hughes, RBGE’s Taxonomy Research Leader for Southeast Asia and a specialist in Begonias, explained: “Assigning scientific names and data to species is at the core of biodiversity accounting. The ongoing accounting of newly recognised Begonias and other species, particularly in vast tropical habitats, reflects how much work is still to be done in documenting life on the planet.”
Other new species published by RBGE scientists and their partners around the world during the recording year 2022 – 2023 include two gingers from Malaysian Borneo and the Philippines. From Myanmar, the Myanmaranthus roseiflorus, was found not only to be a new species of prayer plant, but a completely new genus, or rank, in the biological classification of this group - nicknamed because of the way they close their leaves at night, like hands in prayer, opening them up again at dawn.
Potatoes originated from the Andes mountains of South America and continue to reveal new diversity in our crop relatives. Doselia galilensis, from Colombia, is both a new species and a new genus for the potato family.
At the tiny end of the scale came a liverwort from Portugal and a diatom, a single celled algae, from South Africa.
Finally, the daddy of them all, Drypetes palustris, is a rainforest tree from the swamps of the Congo basin in Africa. First collected in 1955, it has only now been recognised as a new species after careful investigation of its tiny flowers by Dr David Harris at Edinburgh and collaborators in-country.
Coming hot on the heels of these new species are the countless others waiting in the wings for their moment in the spotlight. Mark Hughes concluded that the coming 12 months would be crucial for further advancements: “While the line-up of newly described plant species for the last year highlights our international reach and collaborative approach, we are conscious of the gains still to be made if we can step up a gear,” he said. “The range of research at the Garden, combined with advances in the analysis of plant DNA and the creative methods adapted to ensure continued long-distance collaborations during lockdown mean we are in a stronger position than ever to identify and, therefore, protect Earth’s species diversity.”
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