Monday 14 April 2014

A new species of Cyanobacteria from Chirripó Mountain in central Costa Rica.

Cyanobacteria are filament-forming photosynthetic Bacteria found across the globe and with a fossil record dating back over 3.5 billion years. They are thought to have been the first organisms on Earth to obtain carbon through photosynthesis, and it is also thought that the chloroplasts (photosynthetic organelles) of eukaryotic plants and algae are descended from Cyanobacteria that lived symbiotically within the cells of ancient eukaryotes. Cyanobacteria are often known as Blue-Green Algae, but this is somewhat misleading, as the term Algae is otherwise restricted to photosynthetic eukaryotes (no other group of photosynthetic Bacteria are referred to as Algae), and because not all Cyanobacteria are blue-green in colour; many are dark green or even black.

In a paper published in the journal Phytotaxa on 10 June 2013, Tomáš Hauer, Markéta Bohunická and Radka Mühlsteinová of the Department of Botany at the University of South Bohemia describe a new species of Cyanobacteria from the páramo zone (alpine tundra, the area above the tree line, particularly on mountains in the tropics) of Chirripó Mountain in central Costa Rica.

The new species is named Calochaete cimrmanii, where 'Calochaete' means 'beautiful long hair', and 'cimrmanii' honours Jára Cimrman, a fictional Czech polymath first created by Jiří Šebánek, Ladislav Smoljak and Zdeněk Svěrák in 1964, but who has become a popular figure in modern Czech culture. Calochaete cimrmanii is a filamentous Cyanobacteria living in surface soil.

Morphological variability of Calochaete cimrmanii. (A) Mature heteropolar filaments. (B) detail of well-developed filament with terminal heterocyte. (C) A filament germinating from hormogonium with enlarged cells. (D, E) Formation of a hormogonium in a filament and hormogonia with enlarging cells. (F) Middle part of a mature filament with thin colorless sheath. (G) Double branching. (H) Single branching. (I) Young filament with distinct tapering. (J) Swollen bases of mature filaments. (K) Shape of the terminal cells. (L, M) Enlarged cells in hormogonia dividing in two planes (marked with arrowheads). (N) Young growing thallus with single branching. (O) Hormogonia and their development after release from mother sheath. (M) Well-developed filaments. All scale bars are 20 μm. Hauer et al. (2013).

Chirripó Mountain is the highest peak in Costa Rica and the 38th most prominent peak in the world (prominence is the hight of the peak above the surrounding area, many high mountains actually rise from high plains, and are not in themselves very prominent). It is located within the Chirripó National Park, part of the Mesoamerican Biodiversity Hotspot; an area which is noted for a high number of endemic plants and animals. Hauer et al. suggest that this hotspot, and probably others, is likely to also have a high diversity of less obvious organisms, such as Algae and Cyanobacteria.

The approximate location of Chirripó Mountain. Google Maps.

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