Finally, and after many years of fieldwork, identification, writing, checking, editing and correcting our checklist to the vascular pants of La Amistad Binational Park, produced by a team of Costa Rican and Panamanian botanists, and myself, has been published! It has been a challenging and protracted undertaking which at several times I thought would never be completed and special thanks go to a very patient and dedicated editor, Maarten Christenhusz. Checklists are generally not highly regarded in scientific circles as they are effectively lists of what has been documented at particular place. They are though, incredibly important as they represent verified and falsifiable lists synthesising data from several sources and are often the building blocks of other scientific research and much more highly cited publications. They also provide a baseline for conservation and future exploration.
La Amistad itself is a UNESCO World Heritage property and Binational Park shared by Costa Rica and Panama. It covers about 4,000 km2 and contains an incredible 3,046 species of vascular plants, of which 73 are found nowhere else. This makes La Amistad one of the most species-rich places on earth for vascular plants and of great importance for conservation. Part of the reason for this high diversity is the number of contrasting habitats from Paramo, natural grasslands to evergreen oak forest, cloud forest and tropical wet forest.
The plan to do a checklist to the park followed several years of field exploration undertaken as part of Flora Mesoamericana and then a Darwin Initiative project to generate baseline information for the park’s management. This involved hiking and camping for two to three weeks at a time and was some of the most exhilirating fieldwork that I have done. Once we had our collections identified we then used inventories of local herbaria in Costa Rica and Panama, existing taxonomic treatments combined with reliable online resources such as Tropicos to compile a more exhaustive list. We then compared this to a vegetation map which we had produced and elevation ranges from specimen labels to associate each species with a particular vegetation type and in the interests of verifiability we cite all of the known colections of each species made in the park. I am sure there are several errors waiting to be uncovered in the list but despite this, and its relatively low impact factor, it is probably the paper that I am most proud of having been involved with. Firstly because for several years I feared it would never get finished, and secondly because most of the authors are Costa Rican or Panamanian.
A month ago and together with colleagues at the Harvard Herbarium (Laura Lagomarsino) and the Environmental Services Unit of Heredia Public Services Costa Rica (Quiricó Jimenéz-Madrigal) we published a paper describing two new species of tree in the flowering-plant family, Pentaphylaceae, one of which Freziera tararae that we had collected during fieldwork funded by the Natural History Museum’s Collections Enhancement Fund in 2012. It always feels like a real and long-lasting contribution to science to describe and publish a new species for science, no matter how often you do it. It is especially rewarding to publish a new species that you have collected yourself, even more so when it is collected in a spectacularly beautiful and species-rich place as the La Amistad World Heritage site in Costa Rica / Panama.
Freziera tarariae was collected just below the peak of Cerro Tarara on a very cold morning in 2012 after having camped on the top of the peak wearing all of our clothes and huddled next to each other for warmth. The view was spectacular, clouds scudding past below and around us giving way to a bright emerald green horizon of forest as the sun came up and as we clambered down the steep sides of the peak Daniel Santamaría, a very promising young Costa Rican botanist, spotted the tree he had been hoping to find, a new species of Freziera that he had collected a year previously but without flowers. The tree itself is associated with disturbed high elevation forests in the Talamanca Mountains, one of the most species-rich areas in the World for plants.
Together with species delimitation, a significant part of taxonomic revision involves establishing the validity and priority of names. Usually the aim is to have one accepted name per taxon but where there are fewer epithets than species, then new names need to be generated and published. Much more frequent, however, is the case of several epithets being associated with a single species and in these cases one of the epithets has to be selected as the accepted name . The remaining names are designated as synonyms. Within botany there are on average three epithets associated with each name. Continue reading Online tools for nomenclatural revision→
Alex Monro's blog about the documenting and conservation of biodiversity