From Plant Press, Vol. 20, No. 4, October 2017.
-By Kayleigh Walters
Discovery of a new species of grass was reported for Turkey by Research Associate Robert Soreng (Smithsonian Institution) and colleagues Evren Cabi (Namik Kemal University), Lynn Gillespie (Canadian Museum of Nature), and Ekaterina Boudko (Tweed Inc.). The species is described in a recent issue of Turkish Journal of Botany (41: 189-199; 2017). In 2014, Soreng, Cabi, and Burçin Çıngay (Nezahat Gökyiğit Botanic Garden) were on a collecting trip in south-central Turkey when they came across an unusual, mat-forming grass of the genus Alopecurus (foxtail) growing alongside their new Bellardiochloa species (see Plant Press 18: 9; 2015). Boudko had just completed her master’s degree on relationships within and among Alopecurus and its allies in 2014. The debate of “is this new or just an odd form of an already known species” began. Like the best of modern detectives, they conducted DNA analysis on this mysterious grass to get more information for their hypothesis. The DNA results came in: this was new. The botanists took their specimens out for re-analysis, and hit the herbaria to examine dried plants of similar taxa. They searched the published floras of Turkey, Greece, Europe, the Orient, Syria, Palestine, Sinai, Iraq, Iran, and the Soviet Union – their specimens’ characteristics were not matched in any of these. It appeared they really did have a plant on their hands that was previously undescribed by the scientific community.
Alopecurus goekyigitiana Cabi & Soreng is named for Ali Nihat Gökyiğit, an individual important for his contributions to the Illustrated Flora of Turkey and to Turkish botany. It is a pale, greyish-green grass that forms large mats and has long, slender steams with a short, dense, spherical inflorescence that is golden-yellow in color. It was found in the Taurus Mountains, on steep, craggy, mixed sedimentary-rock terrain, covered in arid high steppe to low subalpine vegetation. The researchers believe this new grass has a small range of not more than 100 km2. Due to Alopecurus goekyigitiana's limited range and the fact that it grows in a heavily grazed area, the researchers classed A. goekyingitiana as Endangered (EN) – although they do hope that its remote and rugged environment will offer some protection.