Tuesday 27 December 2016

Lecanorchis tabugawaensis: A new species of parasitic Orchid from Yakushima Island, Japan.

Most Plants produce energy through photosynthesis, and gain nutrients from the soil by forming symbiotic associations with soil Fungi, which they provide with some of the sugars they produce in return. However some Plants have managed to reverse this relationship, becoming parasites who obtain both nutrients and sugars from these Fungi, and no longer photosynthesise themselves. Plants from several different groups have adopted this lifestyle, but one group, the Orchids, are particularly noted for it, with a large number of plants from different Orchid lineages having adopted this lifestyle.

In a paper published in the journal PhytoKeys on 3 November 2016, Kenji Suetsugu of the Department of Biology at Kobe University and Hirokazu Fukunaga of Tokushima City, describe a new species of parasitic Orchid from Yakushima Island, Japan.

The new species is placed in the genus Lecanorchis, a widespread genus of parasitic Orchids found across East and Southeast Asia and through Indonesia as far as Papua New Guinea, and given the specific name tabugawaensis, meaning 'from the Tabu River'. It is a ground-dwelling herbaceous plant with stems reaching about 45 cm in height and lacking leaves. The flowers are a yellowish white in colour; the stems darken from yellow brown in the flowering season to almost black in the fruiting season.

Photographs of Lecanorchis tabugawaensis in Taiwan. (A) Flowering habit (B–C) Flower (D) Fruiting habit. Takuto Shitara & Kenji Suetsugu in Suetsugu & Fukunaga (2016).

Lecanorchis tabugawaensis was found living at two locations on the Tabu and Onna Rivers about 1.5 km apart. Only about 50 plants were discovered. Yakushima Island is considered a hotspot for plant biodiversity, and 61% of the island is designated a National Park and 21% is a World Heritage Site. Despite this there is is little effective protection in the areas where Lecanorchis tabugawaensis was found, and one of the sites was close to a commercial timber plantation that has recently been cut. For this reason  Suetsugu and Fukunaga recommend that Lecanorchis tabugawaensis be classified as Critically Endangered under the terms of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.

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