Exploration in Irian Jaya

New Guinea, the largest tropical island, is divided into Papua New Guinea and Irian Jaya (Indonesia). It is one of the few remaining places with extensive tropical rain forests, still little known and undisturbed. Kew's first expedition to Irian Jaya (February - June 1994) began a new collaborative project on the flora and vegetation of NE Kepala Burung (the 'Vogelkop', named after the resemblance of this part of New Guinea to a bird's head). This and future expeditions are being funded by The John D. & Catherine C. MacArthur Foundation.

Above: The Irian Jaya expedition camp in lowland rain forest near the Wariari River.

On the expedition were Robert Johns (Project Co-ordinator) and Martin Sands who were joined in the field for one month by Indonesian botanists Dr Johanis Mogea (Director, Herbarium Bogoriense) and Soejipto Muliano (from the Herbarium in Manokwari, University of Cenderawasih). Staff from the Manokwari campus also participated in field studies, collecting and training. Twelve trips were made into Kepala Burung. These visited vegetation types ranging from lowland tropical rain forest, montane forest and grassland, to sub-alpine forest and shrubbery on Mt Koebre (2,200 m). Over 1,300 species were collected including many new to science. Several specimens are so different from anything previously known from New Guinea that they have not yet been placed to family.

Left: Possible new species in the family Annonaceae

Middle: Lower montane forrest in the Arfak Mountains

Right: The expedition collected four wild species of banana (Musa); three appear to be undescribed species.

Estimates from a database of existing collections (being prepared at Kew) and the new collections indicate that the flora of Kepala Burung might contain over 7,000 species of vascular plants. Three more expeditions into the area are planned and these will, no doubt, yield more important discoveries.

Fern Finds

The expedition's fern collections are particularly exciting. The monotypic genus Thysanosoria and a rare endemic species of Thayeria were recollected. Both were first collected in Kepala Burung by Odoardo Beccari in 1862 and, whilst Thysanosoria was recollected by Lilian Gibbs in 1912, Thayeria remained known only from the single, original and incomplete specimen from the Arfak Mountains. Other significant fern finds include the first record of Christensenia from mainland New Guinea and several new species of Asplenium, Pteris and Diplora.

Above: Thysanosoria pteridiformis

Contact Robert Johns (0181-332 5293)

Email: Robert Johns

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