Link to paper: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0190801
Image download link: https://we.tl/GxaoPmcmH8 (Credit: A.Monro)
Exciting new data on cave flora have been published today in PLOS ONE in a paper by researchers from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the Guangxi Institute of Botany in China.
Over five years (2009-2014) the researchers delved into the depths of some of China’s most unexplored and unknown caves in the largest ever study on cave floras. Surveying over 60 caves in the Guangxi, Guizhou and Yunnan regions, Kew’s Alex Monro and his colleagues from Guangxi were able to assess the vascular plant diversity of cave flora in more detail than ever before.
From the 1950s to the 1970s, forests in SW China were virtually wiped out due to the demand for charcoal associated with rapid industrialisation during China’s Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. This study documents 31 species known only from caves, leading the team to speculate that cave populations are all that remain of species which once grew in the ‘understory’ (the layer of vegetation between the forest canopy and the ground), which has been wiped out by recent deforestation. This discovery makes these caves and their flora significant and valuable for species conservation in South West China.
Lead researcher Alexandre Monro, at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew says;
“This collaboration with the Guangxi institute of Botany in China is a first attempt to document the presence of vascular plants in caves in Southeast Asia. Before we started we had no idea of the diversity of plants in caves, or that so many species are known only from caves. We hope that this work will lead to a greater interest in caves amongst botanists, and also to a greater interest in plants amongst cave biologists, prompting more study of cave-rich landscapes in Southeast Asia.”
Over the course of the study, 418 species of vascular plants were recorded, with 7% of these species being endemic to caves and 37% of the species endemic to China. Once all caves have been sampled in the region, the real figure is likely to be between 500 and 850 species, based on modelling conducted by this team.
The other conclusion of the study is that the twilight zones in caves can be considered distinct biomes for plants based on a combination of constant and aseasonal climate, as well as very low light. The authors document plants growing in some of the lowest light levels recorded for vascular plants, suggesting a broad range of plants can photosynthesise at much lower light levels than originally thought.
Whilst exploring the entrance caverns, the team observed that almost half of the caves sampled were impacted by tourism or agriculture, with tourism being the more frequent and impactful.
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Title: Discovery of a diverse cave flora in China.
Link to the paper: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0190801
Authors: Alexandre K. Monro, Nadia Bystriakova, Longfei Fu, Fang Wen, Yigang Wei
Guangxi Key Laboratory of Plant Conservation and Restoration Ecology in Karst Terrain, Guangxi Institute of Botany, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Chinese Academy of Sciences, Guilin, Guangxi, People's Republic of China
Core Research Laboratories, The Natural History Museum, London, United Kingdom
Alex Monro’s blog: http://tropicalbotany.wordpress.com/
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a world famous scientific organisation, internationally respected for its outstanding collections 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 and a top London visitor attraction. Kew’s 132 hectares of landscaped gardens, and Kew’s country estate, Wakehurst, attract over 1.5 million visits every year.