Tuesday, 14 October 2014

A new species of Chicory from Taiwan.

Living in limestone habitats requires special adaptations from plants; as such areas tend to have thin layers of alkaline soil over porous bedrock, leading to frequent periods of aridity. Since exposed limestones are most frequently found in upland areas surrounded by areas of lowlands with different environmental conditions, the plants found in them are often highly endemic (have very localized distributions).

In a paper published in the journal PLoS One on 8 October 2014, KohNakamura of the Biodiversity Research Center at Academia Sinica, Shih-Wen Chung of the Botanical Garden Division of the Taiwan Forestry Research Institute, Yoshiko Kono and Meng-Jung Ho, also of the Biodiversity Research Center at Academia Sinica, Tian-Chuan Hsu, also of the Botanical Garden Division of the Taiwan Forestry Research Institute and Ching-I Peng, again of the Biodiversity Research Center at Academia Sinica, describe a new species of Chicory from the Taroko National Park in northeast Taiwan.

The new species is placed in the genus Ixeridium, and given the specific name calcicola. It is dwarfed compared to closely related species (a common adaptation to limestone environments), reaching only 10-30 cm tall, with oblong or lance-shaped leaves and yellow flowers.

Ixeridium calcicola in the wild. Nakamura et al. (2014).

Most members of the genus Ixeridiumhave seven pairs of chromosomes, whereas Ixeridium calcicola was found to have eight, causing Nakamura et al. to consider placing it in the related genus Ixeris, where eight chromosomes is more usual. However a full genetic analysis suggested strongly that the new species belonged within Ixeridium rather than Ixeris, the additional chromosome being due to the splitting of one of the longer chromosomes. This is also likely to have led to the species becoming reproductively isolated, as it is very difficult for plants to hybridize with even closely related species if they have different numbers of chromosomes.

Ixeridium calcicola was found growing only on moist rocky ridges and limestone cliffs at altitudes of 1150-2250 m. A total of five populations were discovered, three of them within the Taroko National Park. Since even the sites within the park are vulnerable to human disturbance, and the areas where the plant grows are naturally prone to landslides, particularly after Earthquakes of periods of heavy rainfall, Nakamura et al. suggest that the plant should be considered vulnerable under the terms of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of ThreatenedSpecies.

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