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Biological Sciences News

Discovery through photography: UC botanists discover and name a new mistletoe species

September 10, 2013

newly named mistletoe 
Flowers of Amyema nickrentii Barcelona & Pelser

Dr Julie Barcelona 
Dr Barcelona with Rafflesia schadenbergiana,
the first open flower documented since its first
discovery in 1882. (June 2007)

Dr Pieter Pelser 
Dr Pelser photographing Amyema nickrentii

University of Canterbury’s botanist couple Drs Pieter B. Pelser and Julie F. Barcelona recently described a beautiful new mistletoe species that they discovered during plant photography fieldwork in the Philippines.

Along with Dr Daniel L. Nickrent from Southern Illinois University, the innovative husband and wife founded the first online illustrated checklist of all known Philippine plants – Co’s Digital Flora of the Philippines, named in honor of Leonardo L. Co, a colleague who was killed while on fieldwork in the Philippines.

Together with an associated Facebook group, this website serves to document Philippine plant diversity and stimulate botanical conservation, research and teaching.

The new mistletoe species, Amyema nickrentii, is one of several exciting discoveries made during plant photography expeditions in which they photographed hundreds of species for their website.

“The Philippines is one of the world’s 25 biodiversity hotspots. Unfortunately, the forests that harbour its remarkable biodiversity are in decline. This is endangering the livelihoods of many Filipinos who depend on it for food, water and protection against climatic extremes.

The absence of a printed flora for the around 13,000 species of plants in the Philippines makes learning and awareness of this amazing diversity quite challenging. Informed conservation management decisions can only be made if there is an up to date, freely accessible and user-friendly overview of the species present in the country”, Pelser said.

“The internet, social media, and digital photography provide excellent opportunities to create such a modern overview. While in the Philippines and supported by the Rufford Small Grants Foundation, we also taught workshops and seminars in which we trained participants from all over the country in plant photography and identification skills and using and developing our website.”

``During our fieldwork, several other important discoveries were also made. For example, we found a second population of the species with the third-largest flowers in the world – Rafflesia schadenbergiana – one of the most endangered species in the Philippines.”, Barcelona said.

``Before our fieldwork, only a single living plant of this iconic species was known to scientists and Rafflesia schadenbergiana was feared to be on the brink of extinction.’’

Barcelona added that they photographed several other plant species that are most likely new to science.

In December 2012, Pelser and Barcelona were awarded certificates of recognition by the Philippine government for their contributions to the discovery of new plant species. In 2011, Barcelona received a lifetime merit award from the National Museum of the Philippines for her contributions to Philippine botany.

Published research paper:
Pelser, P.B. & J.F. Barcelona. 2013. Discovery through photography: Amyema nickrentii, a new species of Loranthaceae from Aurora Province, Philippines. Phytotaxa 125: 47-52.

For further information please contact:
Dr Pieter Pelser
Phone: +64 3 3642987 ext. 45605

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