Seven rainforest ferns described as new to science — ScienceDaily

Researchers from the University of Turku have described seven new species of fern from the rainforests of tropical America. Many of the species were discovered as a byproduct of ecological research: species diversity in tropical forests is still so poor that field trips and herbarium work continue to uncover previously unknown species.

Researchers from the University of Turku’s Amazon research team have a long history of discovering species previously unknown to science. Now they have described seven new species of tropical fern — six of the genus Danaea and one of gender Dennstaedtia.

“The described species are not small or invisible creatures. They range from 20 cm to 2 m tall, and some of them are very common in the country,” says PhD researcher Janina Keskiniva.

In the middle of the sixth Danaea species described by the researchers, one caught the attention of Professor Hanna Tuomisto already in 1998 by forming dense burrows that stretched for kilometers on the bottom in a poorly known area of ​​the Colombian Amazonian lowland forest, where Tuomisto was then working on ground for several months.

“Because there are few people in the area and the forests are largely intact, the new species appears to be doing well. In contrast, another of the new species is already threatened with extinction due to advanced deforestation in the rainforest Colombian coast.” says Tuomisto.

Field trips to new areas often discover new species

The species richness of tropical rainforests is still poorly known. According to researchers, every field trip to a new area has a high chance of finding something new.

“Understanding how to identify the different species and where each grows is important for ecological and other research. The information is also necessary for setting conservation priorities, since in the long term, the survival of species depends on the conservation of their natural habitats. To prevent the loss of biodiversity, it is important to protect areas that have special habitats and unique species,” says Tuomisto.

When researchers collect plant specimens and preserve them in herbariums, they often assume that the specimens represent one of the already known species. Proper comparison of specimens may reveal that there are new species hiding in plain sight in already existing collections.

“We used most of the specimens to describe the new ones Danaea species were collected decades ago, some already in the 1800s. Throughout these years, specimens have been curated in various herbaria. Now we can combine all that information gathered from the herbaria with new knowledge from field studies done by us and our colleagues,” says Keskiniva.

The example of the fern that prompted to describe the new Dennstaedtia the species was collected 15 years ago by Gabriela Zuquim, a researcher at the University of Turku

“I was taking pictures in the forest to produce a fern field guide. It was getting dark now so I was walking back to camp when I saw an unfamiliar fern. I had never seen anything like it before so I made an extra effort and collected it that,” Zuquim recalls.

Now she has described the species as new to science along with Brazilian researchers Túlio Pena and Pedro Schawrtsburd, who are resolving species boundaries and species names in this fern genus.

“The place where I collected this species has very different soils from most of the central Amazon forest, so I’m sure many more discoveries can be made there,” adds Zuquim.

Different soil conditions create a mosaic of habitats in Amazonia, which has a major impact on how species are created and evolve.

“Our long-term goal has been to understand more about the biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest. We are particularly interested in what factors determine which species grow where and why, and what are the drivers behind the evolution of new species. At first, I I wasn’t interested in describing new species, but I quickly realized that it’s impossible to communicate about ecology and evolution if the species we’re studying don’t have names,” says Tuomisto.

The Amazon is the largest area of ​​tropical forest in the world and contains a large part of the global biodiversity. It also stores large amounts of carbon and regulates regional and global precipitation patterns and temperature. The conservation of Amazonian biodiversity is therefore of crucial importance for planetary well-being.

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