Canterbury botanists recognised for rare plant find…

Balanophora coralliformis, a newly-discovered plant species in the Phillippines, has no chlorophyll and invades the roots of other plants to steal its nutrients.

Balanophora coralliformis, a newly-discovered plant species in the Phillippines, has no chlorophyll and invades the roots of other plants to steal its nutrients.
P. Pelser and J. Barcelona
Balanophora coralliformis, a newly-discovered plant species in the Phillippines, has no chlorophyll and invades the roots of other plants to steal its nutrients.

A newly-discovered parasitic plant, already considered endangered, has won acclaim for two Canterbury researchers.

Drs Pieter Pelser and Julie Barcelona, a husband-and-wife team based at the University of Canterbury, discovered the plant in the Philippines.

It was included in a list of the top 10 new species of 2015, alongside a bird-dinosaur hybrid identified from fossils and a cartwheeling spider.

Despite its coral-like appearance, Balanophora coralliformis grows on land but is unable to photosynthesise. Instead, it siphons nutrients from other plants that it parasitises.

Pelser and Barcelona discovered the plant last year in the Philippines, where it had been photographed by a colleague killed in 2010.

Leonardo Co, a Filipino botanist, was shot while working in the field. It was believed he was caught in the crossfire between rebels and the military.

Pelser and Barcelona went back into the area where the plant had been photographed and searched for it again.

“We kept our eyes open for it and ultimately found it,” Pelser said.

They published their finding in the taxonomic journal, Phytotaxa.

“This species is only known from a single mountain ridge in cloud forest on the slopes of Mount Mingan on Luzon Island in the Philippines,” Pelser said.

Its rarity means it is classed as endangered, especially with the threat of illegal logging in the area.

The top “new species” list has been created every year since 2008 as a way to draw attention to a growing biodiversity crisis.

“You cannot protect plants and animals you don’t know exist,” Barcelona said. “That is one of the reasons why taxonomy is such an important field of biology.”

Barcelona and Pelser have been leading a citizen science project to build a photographic record of the flora of the Philippines.

Using social media, locals have been encouraged to upload photos of plants they come across that can be added to the database.

Pelser said citizen science projects were “bringing down ivory towers”.

“It has never been easier for people to get involved in scientific projects and experience the thrill of discovery.”

Acknowledgements:   – Stuff

http://www.stuff.co.nz/science/69100735/canterbury-botanists-recognised-for-rare-plant-find

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