Scientists have discovered two species of carnivorous plants, previously unknown to science, that use slime to catch their prey.
Botanists detected the new species high in the Andes mountains of southern Ecuador, not far from the border with Peru.
The plant species, nicknamed pinguicula jimburensis and pinguicula ombrophilarespectively, have been described in an article published in the journal PhytoKeys.
They are part of the butterworts genus, a group of more than 100 species of flowering plants, technically known as pinguicula, which have the ability to trap insects with their slimy leaves. Most of the members of this genus are found in the Northern Hemisphere, unlike the two new members.
The researchers first observed the new species during expeditions to numerous remote Ecuadorian habitats where little is known about the local flora.
One of the researchers who participated in the expeditions, Álvaro Pérez of the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador in Quito, Ecuador, is the author of the PhytoKeys paper.
Pérez and his colleagues collected anything they thought might be a plant with a restricted range to certain remote locations.
pinguicula jimburensis was found on the shore of a mountain lagoon at an altitude of about 11,110 feet, while pinguicula ombrophila it was seen on a nearly vertical rock wall at an altitude of about 9,500 feet.
Pérez and his colleagues then examined what they had found and contacted specialists with experience in plant groups about which they had limited knowledge.
Among those Pérez contacted was Tilo Henning, another study author with the Leibniz Center for Agricultural Landscape Research in Müncheberg, Germany, who had worked on the genus he pinguicula before in northern Peru. Henning helped determine that two of the plants Pérez and his colleagues encountered represented new species.
“It’s always a special feeling when you’re sure that the plant you’ve just found is something unknown to science. Especially when you consider how little remains of the original pristine habitats and how far humanity has spread, even in the most remote areas of this planet.” Henning said news week.
“There are still many undescribed species in the tropics. Mostly, of course, from hyperdiverse groups of organisms like insects or fungi, but even in flowering plants as in the present case. For me and many of my colleagues with the As I have worked over the years, finding and describing new species is the ultimate reward for the grueling field work we do, and often the exact reason we start a career in a difficult and underfunded field. such as biological systematics and taxonomy”.
The two new species are highly ornamental plants, like the entire genus to which they belong, which is why they are sometimes grown by hobbyists.
pinguicula The plants are small, usually only a few inches tall in diameter. They grow in the moist, peat-like soil of their high Andean habitats or, in some cases, on the surface of rock faces, as occurs with P. ombrophila.
They have a small rosette of a few leaves and produce “beautiful” bluish or purple flowers with an elongated spur that contains nectar to attract pollinating insects.
The upper surface of the leaves pinguicula The plants are covered with a sticky, dew-like slime that insects cling to when they land or walk on them.
“They catch small flying or walking insects that land on or walk on their leaves,” laments Henning. “[The insects] stick to the slime the leaves produce, and as you try to escape, stick to more and more slime glands until they run out and die.
“The leaves may be partially rolled at their margins to [put] the surface in close contact with the body of the insect. In specialized glands, plants then produce digestive enzymes to dissolve nutrients from the insect’s body. These nutrients are then taken up by other glands on the leaf surface and used by plants.”
Carnivorous plants are widely distributed throughout the world, but they are relatively rare. Being able to eat animals can provide a competitive advantage in some circumstances, allowing them to thrive in challenging environments, such as high in the Andes.
Only one pinguicula species-P. calyptrata— had been recorded in Ecuador before the last discovery. But the authors of the PhytoKeys The study said more are likely to be found that are currently unknown to science.
“This will eventually come out in the lab, I think,” Henning said. “It is possible that a small number of new species appear somewhere in the remote high Andes of northwestern South America that can be recognized as new species by their outward appearance alone. However, the total number of species could be much higher and somewhat hidden in a deceptive morphological similarity even between very distant populations.
“Only molecular analyzes can ultimately reveal their genetic distance from one another, and thus their taxonomic affinity and degree of relatedness to known species.”
Preliminary results from plant geneticists have already revealed unexpected and significant genetic distance between some South American species, compared to species complexes in other parts of the world, Henning said. (In biology, a species complex is a group of closely related organisms that are so similar that the boundaries between them are often unclear.)
“Therefore, I think it is very likely that our two new species will be accompanied by more novelties in the near future,” Henning said. “Unfortunately, the question will probably be whether we will discover and protect them before they are destroyed along with their habitats.”
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