Madagascar palm exploration
Kew botanists have recently described a further 14 new species of palms from Madagascar, located with the help of satellite technology.
04 Aug 2011
Dypsis gronophyllum, one of fourteen new palm species recently described from Madagascar (Image: John Dransfield).
The palm flora of Madagascar is exceptionally rich, varied and threatened. Kew experts have been studying the palms of this extraordinary island since the 1980s, and a benchmark book was published in 1995 – The Palms of Madagascar by John Dransfield and Henk Beentje.
Following the recruitment of Mijoro Rakotoarinivo, first as a PhD student and more recently as a geographical information systems (GIS) analyst at Kew’s Madagascar Conservation Centre, the rate of palm discovery has stepped up again. Mijoro used GIS-based species distribution modelling to identify priority areas for exploration for rare palms. In addition to finding many new localities for previously poorly known palms, Mijoro has discovered many species in these priority areas that are entirely new to science. As a result, Mijoro and John Dransfield have recently published 14 new palm species in Kew Bulletin. This brings the total number of Madagascar palm species described by Kew scientists to 101, which is 57% of the total Madagascar palm flora of 188 species.
Among the dramatic new species are Dypsis metallica, so-named because of its thick, steely-blue leaves, and Dypsis dracaenoides, which resembles a spiky dragon tree (Dracaena species). All of the new palms are threatened in the wild, with seven of them being rated as critically endangered. This serves to highlight the plight of Madagascar plant biodiversity and the urgency of plant exploration to underpin conservation.
Item from Dr Bill Baker (Head of Palm Research, RBG Kew)
Originally published in Kew Scientist, issue 39
Rakotoarinivo, M. and Dransfield, J (2010). New species of Dypsis and Ravenea (Arecaceae) from Madagascar. Kew Bulletin 65: 279-303.
Scientific Research & Data
- Kew species profile - Dypsis gronophyllum
- Kew Science Project - Field guide to the palms of Madagascar
- Kew News - Palm phylgenetics and exhibition
- Kew News - PalmWeb continues to grow
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