Dec 24 2021
Every year, botanists describe hundreds of new plant, fungal, and lichen species from all across the Earth. Many of these newly described species come from the tropics of South America and Asia, but new species are also described from otherwise well-known floras such as eastern North America. In 2021, NYBG Science Curators described more than a dozen species as new to Western science; a few are highlighted here!
Systematics is the science of classifying biodiversity. Important in its own right, systematics also directly impacts conservation: we can not conserve a species if we do not recognize it as distinct and do not have a name for it. A 2010 paper estimated there are approximately 70,000 plant species that remain to be described, and that natural history collections such as the William and Lynda Steere Herbarium are a primary source for finding new species. NYBG is a global leader in systematics and biodiversity science. Enjoy learning about some of the new species NYBG Science Curators described in 2021!
Austroboletus yourkae. Fungi are incredibly diverse and thousands (potentially millions) of species remain to be described. Curator Emeritus Roy Halling has been working on the fungal order Boletales, the porcini mushrooms, for his entire career, from the tropics of Central America to Australia. Austroboletus yourkae is only known from woodlands in the Yourka Bush Reserve of northeast Queensland, Australia. When describing this new species, Roy noted it has a fishy odor with a metallic tang.
Bacidia depriestiana. The southern Appalachian Mountains are a topographically heterogeneous, rugged landscape that is a biodiversity hotspot for lichens. Based on close herbarium study and assembly and analysis of a large metagenomic dataset, Bacidia depriestiana was recognized as being distinct. The description of this species illustrates exciting opportunities for synergistic advancement of taxonomy and floristics in the broader context of biodiversity science and microbial ecology.
Capronia harrisiana. This new species commemorates the life and work of NYBG Research Fellow Richard (Dick) Harris (1939–2021) who researched lichens and lichenicolous fungi in eastern North America. Dick was the first to recognize Capronia harrisiana as a new species in 2016. Capronia harrisiana is a lichenicolous fungi, meaning it is a fungus that parasitizes lichens as hosts, and is not part of the fungal-algal mutualistic relationship that comprises a lichen.
Macrocentrum aurimontium. It is estimated that half of the remaining plant specimens that have yet to be described to Western science already exist as specimens in Herbaria, but have been misidentified, or otherwise overlooked as being different from other species. An example is Macrocentrum aurimontium, which was collected 34 years prior to its description in 2021! This rare species, only known from two locations, highlights the opportunities that herbaria present to modern botanists.
Meriania penningtonii. The Amotape-Huancabamba Zone of northern Andean Peru is an area with levels of diversity that are roughly six to eight times higher than in adjacent areas to the north and south. Botanical exploration and review of existing herbarium specimens by Fabian Michelangeli and two colleagues from Peru and Brazil is an important step in recognizing even greater biodiversity for this region. Such is the case with Meriania penningtonii, which bears brilliant reddish-purple flowers. This beautiful small tree is only known from three localities, all of which face conservation threats from livestock farming.
Perrottetia taronensis. Despite being a biodiversity hotspot, northern Myanmar is one of the few places on Earth where the flora is poorly documented and described. Kate Armstrong's field collecting in this region has been changing that. Perrottetia taronensis is a new Endangered species named for the Taron River valley in Myanmar. Amazingly, this new species had been previously collected on the Chinese side of the border, but the herbarium specimens were misidentified as five other families!
Spiranthes bightensis. Even densely populated urban areas hold new species! Such is the case with the orchid Spiranthes bightensis, described through a combination of close herbarium study and molecular analysis. The species epithet 'bightensis' refers to the New York Bight, which is the area of the Atlantic Ocean that stretches from Long Island, NY, to the eastern shore of Maryland. This rare species is restricted to this coastal area and is undergoing a major population decline.
Trattinnickia dalyana. Trattinnickia dalyana was named to honor Douglas Daly, whose research focuses on the Frankincense family and the flora of the Amazon. Trattinnickia is a challenging genus to study because its species are polymorphic, or highly variable. For example, Trattinnickia leaves on different portions of the same individual tree can be extremely different sizes, shapes, thickness, and textures. Botanists love cryptic puzzles, and genera like Trattinnickia continually present new research challenges.