IISER Bhopal Scientists Discover New Species of African Mizoram Violet
The newly described species Didymocarpus vickifunkiae (Gesneriaceae) is currently known from only three places in Mizoram and considered endangered. It is an epiphyte (plants that grow on trees) and produces light pink flowers during monsoons. The species is named after the late Dr. Vicki Ann Funk, a renowned botanist who worked at the Smithsonian Institute, United States.
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Along with other discoveries by the IISER Bhopal research team in recent years, this recent discovery shows that the rich biodiversity of the northeastern regions of India remains unexplored and that many plant species remain to be discovered. “This discovery is the result of extensive fieldwork in northeast India, coupled with a rigorous study of past collections kept in herbaria around the world,” said a spokesperson for the IISER.
The discovery was published in the reputable journal Systematic Botany (a peer-reviewed journal published by the American Society for Plant Taxonomists) in an article co-authored by Prasanna NS, researcher, and Dr. Vinita Gowda, associate professor in the department. of Biological Sciences of IISER Bhopal.
“Northeastern India is home to a very diverse flora due to its unique biogeographical location as part of two biodiversity hotspots: the Indo-Burmese hotspot and the eastern Himalayas,” said the Dr Vinita Gowda.
“It is science in its finest form – a field of inquiry which seeks knowledge and depth because, for man, there is much to be learned in the wonders of nature,” added the Dr Gowda.
According to the researchers, the new discovery brings new insights into the unique evolutionary trajectory of the flora of northeast India, known for its biodiversity. Beyond the academic desire to document biodiversity, finding the “ missing pieces ” of the biodiversity puzzle is important in designing conservation approaches to protect the fragile ecosystem of these hotspots, a researcher said.
Didymocarpus is a genus belonging to the Gesneriaceae plant family (commonly known as “African violets”) and its members are distributed from the Western Himalayas to Sumatra. Most of these species are narrow endemics and require specialized habitats to survive, thus acting as an indicator of pristine habitats. There are 106 currently known species of this genus, of which 26 are found in the northeastern states of India, the research team informed.
Due to its complex geology and climatic conditions, northeast India is home to diverse flora and fauna. However, much of it remains poorly documented, even as the IISER Bhopal team studied the evolution and biogeography of Didymocarpus plants.
While collecting plants for study, the authors came across a plant that was distinct from all plants known to botany. After a critical examination of the morphology, published literature and past collections that are kept in natural history museums in India and the UK, they described it as a new species.
“The biodiversity of this region of the country is poorly understood due to the low priority in research, inaccessibility and remoteness, challenges faced by research groups such as the TrEE laboratory,” one reads in a report. Institute press release.
The team combines traditional taxonomic processes with modern methods such as molecular phylogenetics to unravel the biodiversity of the northeast and place it in the context of the wider Asian landscape.