Hot Off the Press

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I am happy to announce that a paper that I have been working on for many years has finally been published in Brittonia this past week! This is part of the work that I did with Dr. Fabián Michelangeli at The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) on the plant family Melastomataceae. Melastomes are commonly called princess flowers and are distinctive with their usually opposite leaves and unmistakable venation patterns. The flowers are generally pretty small with really interesting and colorful anthers. The family is one of the top ten largest families with over 5,000 species and ~150 genera, with the majority of Melastomes having a Neotropical distribution (the Americas, the Caribbean Islands, parts of Mexico and South Florida).

This paper was part of the National Science Foundation’s Planetary Biodiversity Inventory (PBI): Miconieae (Melastomataceae) grant that I worked on. The PBI grants, though only a few exist, were established to inventory all of the species in a group via a multi-institutional and multi-investigator framework. The PBI Miconieae project focuses on the tribe Miconieae and the paper Dr. Michelangeli and I wrote focuses on ten species in the genus Miconia, the largest genus in the family. These ten species all occur in the northern Andes in Colombia and Venezuela and the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and Coastal Cordillera of Venezuela, with one species endemic to Jamaica.

The genus Miconia was last monographed over 125 years ago and the work was based on a very small fraction of the specimens available today. Currently, many species of Miconia have only been treated in local floras, and as such this geographic approach neglects to look at species across their entire range. Inevitably, this makes comparisons of closely related species—in particular those that look very similar, very complicated. This revision attempts to address one such group, the Miconia ulmarioides complex. Using herbarium specimens, we present a comprehensive revision that includes descriptions for all ten species, morphological discussions, including a key for identification, and photographs of key features for all species. We also include distribution maps and conservation status based on the extent of occurrence and IUCN standards (three species were declared critically endangered, one endangered, and one vulnerable). We present a nomenclatural revision (one species was transferred to another genus and one was synonymized) and new lectotypes were designated for eight species.

One of the main goals of the PBI: Miconieae project was to produce a complete web-based monograph. This means that everything associated with a monograph is available through one website. This is a tremendous collaborative effort from several institutions, several PI’s, graduate students, post docs, and interns. This project combines studies in the field, herbarium, and laboratory. On the website you can find digitized searchable herbarium specimens, complete species descriptions, field photos, SEM images, illustrations and distribution maps based on digitized herbarium specimen locality information. The website is hosted through NYBG’s Virtual Herbarium and can be found here.

This study illustrates the importance of field and herbarium collections. Herbaria are essentially museums or libraries for plants, where plants are dried and kept in cabinets organized by family and geography. There are thousands of herbaria around the world, and each herbarium specimen contains a wealth of information. Including but not limited to plant description, phenology (when a plant flowers and fruits), precise locality, habitat—sometimes including soil type and surrounding vegetation. Though field collections are always important, many of the specimens reviewed for this study are from Colombia and Venezuela, two countries often in political distress and in which field collections are not always possible. Herbaria document the world’s flora and provide a permanent record of botanical diversity. This is particularly important for endangered and threatened species such as those in the Miconia ulmarioides complex.

If you have access through your local library or university you can read the paper here.