International Day for Biological Diversity 2014 - Kew Scientist 45 features research on islands
Today (22 May 2014) is the United Nation’s International Biological Diversity Day and this year’s theme is Island Biological Diversity. The theme was chosen to coincide with the UN designation of 2014 as the International Year of Small Island Developing States and with the timing of the decision by the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity 'to strengthen the implementation of the Programme of Work on Island Biodiversity'.
News from some of Kew’s work programmes on island features in the current issue (No. 45) of Kew Scientist (KS), published today, and also in the previous two issues in the run-up to the UN’s 2014 focus on islands.
The origins and evolution of the native and often endemic fauna and flora have fascinated biologists since the time of Charles Darwin and his close friend, Joseph Hooker (Kew’s second Director), and continue to do so. Phylogenetic analyses of DNA sequence data coupled with dating techniques are now used to study the origins and evolution of island floras. The flora of New Caledonia is particularly rich and distinctive, and the current issue of Kew Scientist reports on two studies that have used dated phylogenies to examine the origin and evolution of Psychotria and allied genera (Rubiaceae) and Diospyros (Ebenaceae). The first example of sympatric speciation was discovered by Kew scientists and collaborators on an oceanic island, Lord Howe Island (KS 29), and research continues on this evolutionary model (KS 43).
Despite their limited size, small oceanic islands continue to yield new species of plants, and recently Kew scientists have been involved with the discovery a new grass, Eragrostis episcopulus, on St Helena (K 43), four new palm species from Biak and Supiori (KS 43), Nassauvia falklandica on the Falkland Islands (KS 44) and a new species of butterfly orchid on the Azores (KS 45). Larger islands harbour more undescribed species, as would be expected, but the rate of discovery can be surprising. For example, the current Kew Scientist notes that 12 new species of Nepenthes were described from the Philippines in 2013 (KS 45). Among the largest islands, New Guinea and Madagascar have been a long-term focus for Kew’s research and conservation work with new projects including the ‘Trees of New Guinea’ (KS 45) and agroforestry in Madagascar (KS44).
Island biodiversity is subject to increasing pressures, such as invasive alien species and habitat loss, and island floras include many threatened species. Seed banking is one means to ensure the survival of these species ex situ, and Kew’s has new partnerships covering islands in the Pacific region (KS 45), Caribbean and Mediterranean (KS 44) to develop seed collecting and banking.
Kew collaborates with botanic gardens to cultivate island plants, such as rare endemic grasses in a new Grass Garden in the Parc Botanique et Zoologique de Timbazzaza in Madagascar (KS 45). Threatened island plants are also grown at Kew, such as Epidendrum montserratense from Montserrat (KS 44).
Kew scientists support scientific research to guide conservation decisions, whether it be determining the genetic diversity of the endemic Caribbean pine, Pinus caribaea var bahamensis, in the Bahamas and the Turks & Caicos Islands (KS 45) or modelling the impact of climate change on rare Dypsis palms in Madagascar. The full paper on P. caribaea and four other papers by Kew scientists relating to island plants can be found in a recent issue of Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society.Besides featuring work on islands, the current issue of Kew Scientist covers recent research in legume systematics, and the cover story details a major new plant names resource, the Medicinal Plant Names Services, to help unravel the confusion created by the various common, pharmacopoeia, trade and scientific names of medicinal plants.
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Continuing the island theme of the International Day for Biological Diversity, this week's Kew Science blog post looks at species of palm on the islands of Madagascar and New Guinea.