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Botany

Researchers compile world’s largest inventory of known plant species

By | Botany, News, Plant Science

Researchers at Leipzig University (UL) and the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) have compiled the world’s most comprehensive list of known plant species. It contains 1,315,562 names of vascular plants, thus extending the number of recognised plant species and subspecies by some 70,000 – equivalent to about 20%. The researchers have also succeeded in clarifying 181,000 hitherto unclear species names. The data set has now been published in Scientific Data. This marks the culmination of more than ten years of intensive research work and could help to make Leipzig a leading international centre of plant biodiversity research.

Leipzig could mean for the future of plant taxonomy what Greenwich meant for world time until 1972: it could become the reference city for correct scientific plant names. In an outstanding feat of research, the curator of the Botanical Garden of Leipzig University, Dr Martin Freiberg, and colleagues from iDiv and UL have compiled what is now the largest and most complete list of scientific names of all known plant species in the world. The Leipzig Catalogue of Vascular Plants (LCVP) enormously updates and expands existing knowledge on the naming of plant species, and could replace The Plant List (TPL) – a catalogue created by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London which until now has been the most important reference source for plant researchers.

“In my daily work at the Botanical Garden, I regularly come across species names that are not clear, where existing reference lists have gaps,” said Freiberg. “This always means additional research, which keeps you from doing your actual work and above all limits the reliability of research findings. I wanted to eliminate this obstacle as well as possible.”

World’s most comprehensive and reliable catalogue of plant names

With 1,315,562 scientific names, the LCVP is the largest of its kind in the world describing vascular plants. Freiberg compiled information from accessible relevant databases, harmonized it and standardised the names listed according to the best possible criteria. On the basis of 4500 other studies, he investigated further discrepancies such as different spellings and synonyms. He also added thousands of new species to the existing lists – species identified in recent years, mainly thanks to rapid advances in molecular genetic analysis techniques.

The LCVP now comprises 351,180 vascular plant species and 6160 natural hybrids across 13,460 genera, 564 families and 84 orders. It also lists all synonyms and provides further taxonomic details. This means that it contains over 70,000 more species and subspecies than the most important reference work to date, TPL. The latter has not been updated since 2013, making it an increasingly outdated tool for use in research, according to Freiberg.

“The catalogue will help considerably in ensuring that researchers all over the world refer to the same species when they use a name,” says Freiberg. Originally, he had intended his data set for internal use in Leipzig. “But then many colleagues from other botanical gardens in Germany urged me to make the work available to everyone.”

LCVP vastly expands global knowledge of plant diversity 

“Almost every field in plant research depends on reliably naming species,” says Dr Marten Winter of iDiv, adding: “Modern science often means combining data sets from different sources. We need to know exactly which species people refer to, so as not to compare apples and oranges or to erroneously lump different species.” Using the LCVP as a reference will now offer researchers a much higher degree of certainty and reduce confusion. And this will also increase the reliability of research results, adds Winter.

“Working alone, Martin Freiberg has achieved something truly incredible here,” says the director of the Botanical Garden and co-author Prof Christian Wirth (UL, iDiv). “This work has been a mammoth task, and with the LCVP he has rendered an invaluable service to plant research worldwide. I am also pleased that our colleagues from iDiv, with their expertise in biodiversity informatics, were able to make a significant contribution to this work.”

Read the paper:  Scientific Data

Article source: German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv)

Image credit: Leipzig is host to the oldest botanical garden in Germany. On an area of only three hectares, around 6500 of the 350,000 plant species worldwide grow here. Credit: Swen Reichhold

Plants on Aspirin

By | Botany, General, News, Plant Science, Research

Researchers have gain deeper knowledge of plant growth by treating seedlings with painkillers like Aspirin and the like. For centuries humans were using willow barks to treat a headache or an inflamed tooth. Later, the active ingredient, the plant hormone salicylic acid, was used to develop painkillers like Aspirin. But what happens, if plants are treated with these painkillers? By doing so, scientists discovered an unexpected bioactivity of human pharmaceuticals in plants.

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New flower from 100 million years ago brings fresh holiday beauty to 2020

By | Botany, News, Plant Science

Oregon State University researchers have identified a spectacular new genus and species of flower from the mid-Cretaceous period, a male specimen whose sunburst-like reach for the heavens was frozen in time by Burmese amber.

“This isn’t quite a Christmas flower but it is a beauty, especially considering it was part of a forest that existed 100 million years ago,” said George Poinar Jr., professor emeritus in the OSU College of Science.

Findings were published in the Journal of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas.

“The male flower is tiny, about 2 millimeters across, but it has some 50 stamens arranged like a spiral, with anthers pointing toward the sky,” said Poinaran international expert in using plant and animal life forms preserved in amber to learn more about the biology and ecology of the distant past.

A stamen consists of an anther – the pollen-producing head – and a filament, the stalk that connects the anther to the flower.

“Despite being so small, the detail still remaining is amazing,” Poinar said. “Our specimen was probably part of a cluster on the plant that contained many similar flowers, some possibly female.”

The new discovery has an egg-shaped, hollow floral cup – the part of the flower from which the stamens emanate; an outer layer consisting of six petal-like components known as tepals; and two-chamber anthers, with pollen sacs that split open via laterally hinged valves.

Poinar and collaborators at OSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture named the new flower Valviloculus pleristaminis. Valva is the Latin term for the leaf on a folding door, loculus means compartment, plerus refers to many, and staminis reflects the flower’s dozens of male sex organs.

The flower became encased in amber on the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana and rafted on a continental plate some 4,000 miles across the ocean from Australia to Southeast Asia, Poinar said.

Geologists have been debating just when this chunk of land – known as the West Burma Block – broke away from Gondwana. Some believe it was 200 million years ago; others claim it was more like 500 million years ago.

Numerous angiosperm flowers have been discovered in Burmese amber, the majority of which have been described by Poinar and a colleague at Oregon State, Kenton Chambers, who also collaborated on this research.

Angiosperms are vascular plants with stems, roots and leaves, with eggs that are fertilized and develop inside the flower.

Since angiosperms only evolved and diversified about 100 million years ago, the West Burma Block could not have broken off from Gondwana before then, Poinar said, which is much later than dates that have been suggested by geologists.

Joining Poinar and Chambers, a botany and plant pathology researcher in the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences, on the paper were Oregon State’s Urszula Iwaniec and the USDA’s Fernando Vega. Iwaniec is a researcher in the Skeletal Biology Laboratory in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences and Vega works in the Sustainable Perennial Crops Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland.

Read the paper: Journal of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas

Article source: Oregon State University

Author: Steve Lundeberg

Image credit: Oregon State University

Researchers attempt to piece together the puzzle of tree species diversity

By | Botany, Forestry, News

Questions about the origin of nature have fascinated humans since the dawn of culture. One phenomenon of particular interest is the high diversity of forests in the tropics, relative to those in the temperate zone. One prominent hypothesis is that the greater stability of tropical forests allows greater prevalence of pests, each of which then can exert greater damage on its favored host tree than in the temperate zone, particularly when the tree species concerned becomes common.

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