Rare edible wild yam named by scientists as one of top 10 species of 2009
Press release, May 2010
Scientists at the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University have announced their top 10 newly discovered species of 2009. Dioscorea orangeana has made the list.
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew botanist Paul Wilkin, who is an expert in yams, said:
“It's fantastic news that Dioscorea orangeana has been placed in the Arizona State University’s Institute for Species Exploration’s top 10 new species list. It's a wonderful plant, which usually has variegated young leaves with wavy margins and an unusual group of tubers resembling a bunch of bananas.
- For more information on Dioscorea orangeana please click here
“It was discovered and described by an international team of collaborating yam researchers based at Kew and in Madagascar and France, of which I am part. The first collections of the species made by botanists in the 1960s were incomplete; it was not until the last few years that new specimens and photographs collected by the yam team and others showed definitively it was a new element of the extraordinary biodiversity of Madagascar.
“Seeing Annette and Marcel Hladik’s* collections of the species for the first time was an exhilarating moment of discovery confirming that the first specimens really did represent a unique and special yam species.
“Madagascar has over 40 species of yam, almost all of which are part of a group of closely related species found nowhere else but there. Many are restricted to small parts of this large island, but few are found in as small an area as Dioscorea orangeana; less than 5 km2 in a seasonally dry forest in the far North known as the Forêt d’Orangea. This tiny range, coupled with the observation that it is being heavily exploited for food, suggests that it is critically endangered. The process of naming and describing the species is a critical first step in securing its conservation; if you do not know what you have, you cannot protect it.”
Dioscorea orangeana and the many related wild yams of Madagascar are staple food sources for rural people for large parts of the year, and can mean the difference between survival and starvation. The conservation of wild yam species and populations is vital to increase food security in one of the least economically developed countries on earth as well as to help preserve its rich biodiversity. As part of its Breathing Planet Programme, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and its collaborators aim to apply their increasing knowledge of yam diversity and conservation status in Madagascar. This will be used to underpin new research mapping the locations and sizes of yam populations, to investigate the cultivation of threatened species, their resistance to climate change and how harvesting impacts them. The goal would be to preserve wild yams as a food resource for use by future generations.
Dioscorea orangeana was described and named in print for the first time in the scientific journal Kew Bulletin in October 2009.
For further information see Kew's Dioscorea orangeana species page http://www.kew.org/plants-fungi/Dioscorea-orangeana.htm
For more information about the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s Yams of Madagascar project http://www.kew.org/science/directory/projects/YamsMadagascar.html
- For more information, images or an interview with Paul Wilkin please contact Bronwyn Friedlander, Bryony Phillips, Jo Maxwell or Tarryn Barrowman in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew press office on firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 8332 5607. Out of hours 0208 332 5000
Notes to editors
Approximately 2,000 new plant species are described around the world every year and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew describes about 10% of these.
* Researchers from University of Paris and National Museum of Natural History.
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a world famous scientific organisation, internationally respected for its outstanding living collection of plants and world-class Herbarium as well as its scientific expertise in plant diversity, conservation and sustainable development in the UK and around the world. Kew Gardens is a major international visitor attraction. Its landscaped 132 hectares and RBG Kew's country estate, Wakehurst Place, attract nearly 2 million visitors every year. Kew was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2003 and celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2009. Wakehurst Place is home to Kew's Millennium Seed Bank, the largest wild plant seed bank in the world. RBG Kew and its partners have collected and conserved seed from 10% of the world's wild flowering plant species (c.30, 000 species) and aim to conserve 25% by 2020.
Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership has already achieved so much, and its enormous potential for future conservation can only be fulfilled with the support of the public and other funders. Kew needs to raise significant funds both in the UK and overseas. Members of the public can support the work of Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership by getting involved with the ‘Adopt a Seed, Save a Species' campaign. For £25 an individual can adopt a seed or for £1000 anyone can save an entire species. www.kew.org/adoptaseed
‘Biodiversity Year at Kew’ in 2010 will celebrate the importance of plant diversity in underpinning biodiversity through a programme of themed and seasonal horticultural displays, art exhibitions, educational activities for all the family and scientific announcements. For a full programme of events see www.kew.org/press/2010.html or visit www.kew.org/biodiversity
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is part of the worldwide celebrations of 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity, and is one of over 300 UK organisations, charities and groups supporting this global awareness campaign. The diversity of life on earth is crucial for human well being and now is the time to act to preserve it. For information on events, initiatives and exhibitions across the UK during 2010 visit www.biodiversityislife.net
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