From Plant Press, Vol. 18, No. 2, April 2015.
By Warren Wagner
The Department of Botany has a long history of foundational biodiversity research. One major way the Department has contributed is through long-term projects to produce floristic analyses for local or regional areas that are intensively explored and documented. These projects have led to an increase in herbarium specimens, DNA samples, images, and community level data, including conservation assessments. For example, the Biological Diversity of the Guiana Shield project has been actively collecting and contributing to research to document, understand, and conserve the biological diversity of the northern part of South America since 1983. On a more local scale the Flora de Guaramacal (Venezuela) project has focused on providing a comprehensive assessment of the plants of Guaramacal National Park. The first volume of the flora, published last year by Laurence Dorr, represents a major publication that will have a broad impact in the northern Andes. Another area of long-held interest is the Caribbean. Pedro Acevedo has taken a major step towards a modern understanding of the regional flora with the publication of Catalogue of Seed Plants of the West Indies (Acevedo-Rodríguez & Strong, 2012). This monumental work treats 12,279 angiosperm taxa and is an impressive effort to document this rich flora with 71% endemism. We also continue to provide an up-to-date taxonomy and database of specimen records for the DC flora, based on the work of Stan Shetler and Sylvia Orli.
Smithsonian research in the South Pacific dates back to the U.S. Exploring Expedition, which formed the beginnings of the herbarium in 1846. Some of the most important work was completed by Al Smith on the Fiji Islands, and Ray Fosberg and Marie-Hélène Sachet on the Hawaiian Islands, French Polynesia and Micronesia. In 1988 I initiated a collaboration with David Lorence from the National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG). Together we decided a compelling project would be to complete a flora of the Marquesas, building on the previous work of Fosberg and Sachet, and as an extension of the recently completed Manual of the Flowering Plants of Hawai`i. The first collecting expedition in 1988 included staff from NTBG, Bishop Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, and the French research organization ORSTOM. During the past 20 years, the project conducted six expeditions to collect throughout the islands, targeting poorly explored islands as well as poorly explored regions on various islands, making 3500 new collections*. These were added to the complete Marquesas database with about 11,000 collections of native, naturalized, and cultivated vascular species across a relatively small flora with about 333 native species.
During the course of the current project (since 1988), 56 species new to science have been described primarily by David Lorence, Warren Wagner, and Jacques Florence. Before that, 18 new species were contributed by Fosberg and Sachet, through an expedition by Sachet and Royce Oliver in 1975, the PhD. thesis work of Bryce Decker in mid-1960s, and another 11 by Jacques Florence for the French project to produce Flore de la Polynesie Francaise prior to collaborating with our project. Of these, Oxalis gagneorum Fosberg & Sachet (back page of this printed issue of The Plant Press) was one of the 18 Marquesan species they described and was among the early illustrations Alice Tangerini made for Fosberg & Sachet. Heliotropium perlmanii Lorence & W.L. Wagner (above) is the 85th new species of the project published last month in Phytokeys. The most recent species published, it is actually one of the first collections made in 1988 by Steve Perlman on the sea cliffs of the most remote and oldest island of the archeipelago, Eiao. These new species, almost all of which are considered endangered because they are local endemics restricted to narrow areas usually on a single island, have increased the known native flora by 25% and are described in over 30 publications by Lorence, Wagner, Fosberg, Sachet, and Florence along with a few with other collaborators. About one half of these were published in two special issues: Allertonia (vol. 7, 1997) and Phytokeys (vol. 4, 2011).
In addition to these regional taxonomic revisions of the genera and addition of new species, the overall project had several goals: to increase scientific interaction among cooperating institutions for further exploration and research within the islands; database specimens and literature; develop a web-based vascular flora; produce the first Vascular Flora of the Marquesas Islands; and provide a framework for preserving the biodiversity of the islands. Now entering its 27th year, the project is moving towards completion and anticipates the publication of a comprehensive flora in the near future.
*EDITOR’S NOTE: The text that appears here differs from the text that appeared in the mailed printed issue of the newsletter. The number of collections and the number of taxa presented here are a more reasonable reflection of the Marquesas Flora project.