Columnea fluidifolia: A New Botanical Discovery at Mashpi Lodge

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A new plant species previously unknown to science has been identified. Columnea fluidifolia is the newest member of Gesneriaceae, a family of flowering plants consisting of about 152 genera and some 3,540 species.

The discovery is a product of a joint effort between Mashpi’s Research & Biology Team and botanists from Ecuadorian and international academic institutions, with grant funding provided by the Swiss Federal Research Institute (WSL), the National Geographic Society, and the Swiss National Science Foundation.

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Curiosity and Serendipity

The discovery of this new species derived from a different, but equally fascinating, field study: The Ecology of Plant-Hummingbird Interactions, conducted in Mashpi between 2017 and 2019 by WSL (Switzerland) and Aves & Conservación (Ecuador). Flowers and hummingbirds are intimately related in the natural world, which is why studies about interactions including preferred plants and hummingbird-feeding behavior are important. The delicate balance between the lively hummingbirds and their colorful counterparts is becoming harder to study due to habitat loss.  

It is not uncommon for studies to lead to newer projects. In Biology, subjects tend to interact with each other and researchers are always on the lookout for unexpected indicators of scientific interest.

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Who discovered the new plants?

Individuals of the Columnea sp. plant caught the eye of expert botanist Francisco Tobar, who decided to initiate a whole new field study.

Plants were photographed in the field and subsequently pressed and dried.  Morphological observations and measurements were made from live collections, alcohol-preserved material, and digital images. Then, after a painstaking process of comparison with other collections of various other recognized species native to Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica housed in digital libraries and herbaria, the specimens were recognized as members of a distinct species.

The 10th New Species Discovered Within the Mashpi Reserve

Scientific research is a fundamental pillar of the project that encompasses Mashpi Lodge and Reserve. As such, a permanent resident biologist conducts scientific research since 2009 and manages projects that have meticulously catalogued the multitude of species that make Mashpi their home.

Columnea fluidifolia is the 10th new species discovered in the Mashpi Reserve, a cause for celebration among the scientific teams that work there. It represents the newest entry in the region’s huge inventory of biologically diverse flora, which includes around 500 catalogued species.

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The endemic status of these plants reiterates the importance of conservation in the Andean Chocó. An endemic species is the evolutionary result of many special adaptations to this bioregion, making its discovery an incomparable development for tropical biodiversity and something that is unique to the region.

Something special about this species is the unusual arrangement of its leaves; the same sprout holds both pairs of anisophyllous leaves (different sizes) and pairs of isophyllous leaves (same sizes). It’s an epiphyteplant (i.e., it grows atop other plants), with pendular, colorful and eye-catching patterns.

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Is Columnea fluidifolia part of a healthy population?

Only about 40 individuals of the species have been identified, which automatically puts it on the critically endangered list. Plants such as these rely on reserves like Mashpi to guarantee their continued survival. Their small numbers make their discovery all the more thrilling, but sadly, also serve as a reminder of the precious nature of species such as these.  

References  

Phytokeys : https://phytokeys.pensoft.net/article/79673/

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