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'Luck and perseverance': new plant genus discovered in Amazon PDF Print E-mail


Jeremy Hance
March 31, 2011

The discovery of a new plant species is not uncommon, especially in places of remarkable biodiversity such as the Amazon rainforest. However, discovering a new plant genus, a taxonomic rank above species, is, according to Henk van der Werff fromt the Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG), "a matter of luck and perseverance". Researchers with the Missouri Botanical Garden have been blessed with both as they have announced two new species of Amazonian plants, one from Ecuador and one from Peru, that comprise a completely new genus: named, Yasunia, since the plant was originally discovered in Ecuador's vast Yasuni National Park.


"There are many new species found mostly in the tropics each year. Typically, new species differ in minor characteristics from their close relatives. New genera differ in major characteristics from their relatives," explains Van der Werff, who heads the MBG's Monographic Studies Department.

Researchers from MBG's staff first collected the new genus in 1993 in Yasuni National Park. Later staff in the park collected more specimens for identification. Scientists were then able to determine that the new species was not similar to any genus in the Laurel family. Another unique species of this new genus was collected in 2003 in Peru's upper Rio Utiquinia in Ucayali.

"This is an extremely rare and exciting scenario [...] Usually, when a new genus is discovered, it is associated with only one species. It is very unusual to find two new species belonging to the same new genus. Yasunia with two new species is one of those very rare cases," said Van der Werff.

Ecuador's Yasuni National Park has been dubbed by some tropical researchers as the most biodiverse place in the world, i.e. containing more species than anywhere else. According to one study more trees grow in a single hectare (2.47 acres) of upland rainforest in Yasuni—655 species—than in the continental US and Canada combined. However, the park's species and indigenous groups are threatened by ongoing oil exploration and drilling.