University of Bayreuth, Press release No. 057/2023 - 5 May 2023
University of Bayreuth cooperates with the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh to study Peru's flora
The Rio Marañón valley in Peru is world-renowned for its exceptionally high biodiversity. This unique flora, characterized by species-rich dry forests, is currently being studied jointly by scientists from the University of Bayreuth, the Herbarium at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) and the National University of San Marcos in Lima. Recently, Prof. Dr. Sigrid Liede-Schumann and PD Dr. Ulrich Meve from the research group of Plant Systematics visited the RBGE to examine some of the South American herbarium specimens – these are dried and pressed plants – stored there. In the process, they discovered three previously unknown species of Peruvian dogbane.
The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is the second largest institution of its kind in the UK after Kew Gardens. The plant systematists from Bayreuth were invited by Dr. Zoë Goodwin and Dr. Tiina Särkinen at the herbarium there to support analyses of the herbarium specimens of Peruvian silkweed plants of the dogbane family (Apocynaceae). Both are proven specialists in this field: "Many of these plants are endemics, i.e. they only occur in the unusually species-rich valley of the Rio Marañón. Ten years ago, we in Bayreuth succeeded for the first time in identifying and describing such a plant species – Jobinia peruviana. Now, using the herbarium specimens in Edinburgh, we have discovered three more endemics and have been able to assign them to the genera Metastelma, Ditassa and Jobinia," says PD Dr. Ulrich Meve, curator of the herbarium at the University of Bayreuth.
Together with the research partners in Edinburgh and Lima, these species are now soon to be scientifically described. The goal is to completely record the flora of the Marañón Valley. This is a basic prerequisite for the development of conservation programmes for the valley's vegetation. "The endemics, of which we found numerous specimens in the herbarium in Edinburgh, and many other floristic features underline the outstanding importance of the dry valleys for Peru's biodiversity. In order to preserve them in the long term, it is worth all efforts to take optimal protection measures," says Prof. Dr. Sigrid Liede-Schumann, who is Chair of Plant Systematics at the University of Bayreuth.
Drying and pressing of collected plants has been a proven process for centuries: It serves to preserve the plants in the long term in such a way that the morphological characteristics required for correct classification are preserved. Worldwide, herbaria are thus something like the "base stations" of botanical research. In this context, the usefulness of the preserved plants extends far beyond the scientific description and delimitation of plant species. "Herbarium specimens are a valuable source of genetic material that enables us to analyze the phylogeny and evolution of plants using biochemical methods. They also help us to elucidate current ecological and biogeographical questions. In this respect, we also look forward to further close collaboration with our Scottish partners," says Liede-Schumann.