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University of Bayreuth, Press release No. 096/2023 - 4 July 2023

Local TV report on New Caledonia leads to discovery of a new plant species

A team at the Department of Plant Systematics at the University of Bayreuth has recently identified a new plant species of the genus Leichhardtia on New Caledonia and presented it in the journal "Phytotaxa". This discovery was triggered by a television report from a local TV station on New Caledonia about a research trip to the hard-to-access island of Yandé northwest of the main island of New Caledonia.

Opened single flower of Leichhardtia weari.

The botanical excursion had the goal to find again a plant on the island Yandé, which was known here from former times, but has disappeared in the meantime, and furthermore to analyze the vegetation of the island completely. The local TV station "Caledonia" reported about this excursion in its programme "Weari". The verb "weari" means "to protect" or "to preserve" in Paicî, the most widely spoken indigenous Kanak language in New Caledonia. The TV report was followed on YouTube by the French botanist Dr. Gildas Gâteblé – the director of the botanical garden "Villa Thuret" in Antibes – who thought he saw a species of the genus Leichhardtia unknown to him on the footage. This plant had been described in the TV report as Leichhardtia neomicrostoma, a known species from the north of New Caledonia, but clearly differs from it by the cylindrical-urn-shaped flowers, which are only three millimeters long. Based on this observation, the finder of the plant, the local plant expert Dominique Fleurot from Koumac in Northern New Caledonia, organized a second field trip to the island to collect material for a thorough study of this plant.

Prof. Dr. Sigrid Liede-Schumann and PD Dr. Ulrich Meve analyzed the material morphologically and molecularly in the Bayreuth Plant Systematics laboratory. It turned out that Dr. Gildas Gâteblé was right with his observation: the plant is indeed a new species of the genus Leichhardtia, not closely related to L. neomicrostoma. This discovery brings the number of known Leichhardtia species on New Caledonia to twenty. They are exclusively distributed on this Pacific archipelago east of Australia, which is a biodiversity hotspot with its large number of endemic species.

Leichhardtia weari on Yandé Island.

In a paper for the journal "Phytotaxa", the new species has now been described under the name Leichhardtia wearii, in reference to the name of the television programme to which its discovery is owed. In Kanak culture, it is customary to officially introduce new terms and names, which takes the form of traditional gestures. A first gesture was performed on 27 May 2023 on Yandé Island to officially incorporate the name of the television programme into the Paicî language. Both the local chief and New Caledonian media as well as representatives of the Paicî culture and language participated in the event. In a second ceremony, the plant name "wéari" will now also be officially introduced.

Publication:
G. Gâteblé, U. Meve, S. Liede-Schumann: A new threatened New Caledonian Leichhardtia (Apocynaceae, Asclepiadoideae, Marsdenieae) species discovered from a TV programme and social media. Phytotaxa 591 (2): 91–100. DOI: https://doi.org/10.11646/phytotaxa.591.2.1

The television report that Dr. Gildas Gâteblé had seen on Youtube and that led to the discovery of the new species of plant: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4E9Xt8eIEH8

Dr. Ulrich Meve.

PD Dr. Ulrich Meve

Plant systematics
University of Bayreuth

Phone: +49 (0)921 / 55-2452
E-mail: ulrich.meve@uni-bayreuth.de

Prof. Dr. Liede-Schumann

Prof. Dr. Sigrid Liede-Schumann

Plant Systematics
University of Bayreuth

Phone: +49 (0)921 / 55-2460
E-mail: sigrid.liede@uni-bayreuth.de 

Christian Wißler, Wissenschaftskommunikation

Christian Wißler

Deputy Press & PR Manager, Research Communication
University of Bayreuth

Phone: +49 (0)921 / 55-5356
E-mail: christian.wissler@uni-bayreuth.de