‘Two plant species now extinct in the wild’

Two species of plants first collected by botanists more than 125 years ago from Meghalaya and the Andaman Islands are now extinct in the wild, according to a new paper published in the Journal of Threatened Taxa.

Classified under the genus Boesenbergia, the species belong to the family Zingiberaceae, the ginger family of flowering plants. Boesenbergia rubrolutea was first collected from the Khasi Hills, Thera, in Meghalaya on October 10, 1886. Specimens of Boesenbergia albolutea were collected from the Andamans and sent to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, England, in 1889.

Possible reasons for their disappearance include climate change, human interference and over-exploitation, or natural calamities, said the authors of the paper M. Sabu, CSIR-Emeritus Scientist, Malabar Botanical Garden and Institute for Plant Sciences, and K. Aishwarya of the Department of Botany, University of Calicut.

Endemic to the locations of their discovery, Boesenbergia albolutea and Boesenbergia rubrolutea are also among the least explored species of the genus Boesenbergia, the paper said. Ten species of this genus, including the two cited above, have been reported in India.

The authors have recommended listing them as ‘Extinct in the Wild (EW) (IUCN 2019)’ under the IUCN Red List category on the basis of field visits, examination of databases of various herbaria, and available literature, it said. Neither of the species were reported again after their first collection.

Three decades of field explorations by Dr. Sabu throughout India - including the Andaman & Nicobar Islands - as part of the taxonomic revision of the family Zingiberaceae, also failed to spot even a single specimen of these species, it adds.

The paper further notes that in 1995, botanists S. K. Jain and Ved Prakash, on the basis of available literature, reported the species Boesenbergia rubrolutea as endemic to Meghalaya and endangered as it was restricted to ‘very small areas of one State and facing immediate danger of extinction, these species need urgent conservation.’

Attempts by Dr. Sabu and Dr. Aishwarya to locate new specimens of the two species also proved futile. The lone herbarium specimens are preserved at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

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Printable version | Apr 8, 2022 12:42:40 am |