During a botanical survey along the banks of the Seli River, Sierra Leone, in April 2016, Kew scientist Xander van der Burgt, accompanied by Joseph Momoh from the National Herbarium of Sierra Leone, encountered a secluded population of an aquatic herbaceous plant growing in dense patches on the bedrock of a rapid in the river. Belonging to the flowering plant family Podostemaceae, the existence of this species was previously unknown to science. It has since been named as Ledermanniella yiben Cheek by Kew scientists. Local botanists continued to search for further populations at the many river rapids across Sierra Leone and Guinea, but none have yet been found.
Growing in a colony, only at this single locality, the population at the Seli River would appear to represent the entire world population of this species. These plants are naturally adapted to the river’s rising and falling water levels; they are submerged for most of the year becoming exposed and flowering at the end of the dry season. However, this very habitat is at risk and this plant population will be submerged permanently when the construction of the proposed hydroelectric reservoir is implemented. Therefore, Ledermanniella yiben was identified as a critically endangered species which could potentially become extinct in the very near future.
To prevent this species from possible extinction, Kew scientists collaborated with Njala University, Sierra Leone to conserve seeds at Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) where they can survive for tens, hundreds, or even thousands of years. However, the journey to the seed bank at Kew was not straightforward and involved several important steps:
Seed banking remains a key part of Kew’s Science Strategy and Science Collection Strategy and contributes to Target 8 and Target 9 of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation. It promotes conservation by enabling the sustainable use of seeds in the seed bank for re-introduction of species, restoration of degraded habitats, research, education and display. Kew and its scientists continue to safeguard plant diversity worldwide with a focus on plants most at risk and most useful for the future, while addressing global challenges for food security, sustainable energy, loss of biodiversity and climate change.
- Udi, Lucy, Xander & Martin -
We thank the Government and Njala University of Sierra Leone, Joule Africa, and staff of the RBG Kew whose support has made the Millennium Seed Bank’s collections possible.
Cheek, M., van der Burgt, X., Momoh, J., & Lebbie, A. (2017) Ledermanniella yiben sp. nov. (Podostemaceae), Critically endangered at the proposed Yiben Reservoir, Sierra Leone. Kew Bulletin 72: 31. DOI 10.1007/S12225-017-9699-0. Available online
The MSB at Wakehurst is on a mission to conserve 25% of the world’s plant species by 2020.
Kew Science Blog: Seeds from over 39,000 species and sub-species (known collectively as taxa) from across the globe are stored in the MSB. Read more about its conservation value.
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