José Carlos Mendes Santos (a.k.a. Louro) is a handyman in rural northeastern Bahia, Brazil - one of the areas of the world with the highest biodiversity.
Two years ago, he found a tiny, inch-high plant with white-and-pink flowers in the backyards of the off-the-grid house of amateur botanist and local plant collector Alex Popovkin. The little plant was brought home to be grown on a window sill for closer observation. In parallel, work on its identification began. Thanks to solar power and a satellite connection, Popovkin had access to the Internet, and as was his habit, he uploaded some photographs of the plant to Flickr and contacted several taxonomic experts around the globe.
The family (strychnine family, or Loganiaceae) and genus (Spigelia) of the plant were soon established, with a suggestion from a Brazilian botanist that it might be a new species.
Mr. Popovkin: This is my first botanical publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Hopefully, there will be more to follow. I had since early adolescence felt attraction to plants, especially tropical plants, when working as a volunteer at the greenhouses of the Botanic Garden of the University of St Petersburg, Russia. It took me 30 years to realize my dream of living in the tropics and studying its plants up close. My daily botanizing walks always bring personal discoveries. My help and local fellow collector Louro has also shown great interest in botany.
"It is very easy to think we have found and described most plant species of the world already, but this discovery shows that there are so much left out there without name and recognition", says Struwe and adds, "This discovery shows that the most amazing living things can be found when you least expect it, during times and places when you really aren't looking for something new, and suddenly it is right there in front of you. How many of us haven't had the most brilliant ideas in the shower? The art of taxonomy is finding as well as being able to recognize something as new or different, which is hard when the world is home to millions of species and very few species experts."
This case shows that collaboration between amateurs and professional scientists, using both new molecular and traditional methods and making use of the facilities of the Internet can lead to new discoveries and new efficient ways of documenting the world's biodiversity.
Photographs of Spigelia genuflexa taken by Alex Popovkin are available under a Creative Commons Attribution license (CC BY 2.0) from Flickr.
A link to the Press Release on Pensoft's website, in Portuguese.
Original source: Popovkin AV, Mathews KG, Santos JCM, Molina MC, Struwe L (2011) Spigelia genuflexa (Loganiaceae), a new geocarpic species from the Atlantic forest of northeastern Bahia, Brazil. PhytoKeys 6: 47-65. doi: 10.3897/phytokeys.6.1654
Posted by Pensoft Publishers.
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