Ex­pe­di­tions hold the key to dis­cov­er­ies

Pub­li­ca­tion of new plant species with ca­sual ap­proach and in­ad­e­quate field ex­pe­ri­ence re­sults in noth­ing but noise in tax­o­nomic lit­er­a­ture

Down to Earth - - COVER STORY -

Doc­u­men­ta­tion of plant di­ver­sity for the sus­tain­able man­age­ment of bio­di­ver­sity is the need of the hour. And such doc­u­men­ta­tions are an in­te­gral part of tax­o­nomic stud­ies.

Dur­ing ex­plo­rations, re­searchers and bio­di­ver­sity en­thu­si­asts usu­ally gather spec­i­mens of di­verse plant species from dif­fer­ent ar­eas. Th­ese col­lected ma­te­ri­als are then seg­re­gated as per tax­o­nomic hi­er­ar­chy and com­pared for mor­pho­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences. The ones with novel char­ac­ter­is­tics are recog­nised as a dis­cov­ery.

Such find­ings are of great value and are re­ported in sci­en­tific pub­li­ca­tions with great en­thu­si­asm. Au­thors who con­trib­ute to such pub­li­ca­tions re­main au­thor­i­ties to the species or in­fraspe­cific species (sub-species) pub­lished.

Plant ex­plo­rations re­sult in re­port­ing of new dis­tri­bu­tional records which are usu­ally ad­di­tions to the re­gion, state or even the coun­try un­der ex­plo­ration.

How­ever, re­port­ing of new species re­quires great pru­dence. It re­quires ex­per­tise in a par­tic­u­lar group. And a gen­er­al­ist may not be able to eval­u­ate nov­elty as per­cep­tively as a spe­cial­ist in spe­cific groups.

So, while re­port­ing a nov­elty, it is es­sen­tial to en­sure that the species has con­sis­tent vari­a­tions which are vis­i­ble in good pop­u­la­tions. Since the sub­ject is vast, any fail­ing on this would re­sult in great con­fu­sion and chaos, and make sci­ence an er­ratic hy­poth­e­sis. The Botan­i­cal Sur­vey of In­dia ( BSI), a premier in­sti­tute on plant tax­on­omy re­search in In­dia, pub­lishes the com­pi­la­tion of plants dis­cov­ered in the pre­vi­ous year and re­leases it on the oc­ca­sion of the World En­vi­ron­ment day ev­ery year. This is the only ref­er­ence source on new species and new dis­tri­bu­tional records of plants re­ported from across the coun­try. BSI has been com­pil­ing in­for­ma­tion on plant dis­cov­er­ies for the last seven years.

The In­dian flora is pri­mar­ily con­cen­trated in four hot spots—the In­doMyan­mar re­gion (which cov­ers Mi­zo­ram, Ma­nipur, Na­ga­land, Megha­laya, Tripura and An­daman Is­lands); the Hi­malayas (cov­er­ing Jammu and Kash­mir, Hi­machal Pradesh, Ut­tarak­hand, Dar­jeel­ing in the north­ern part of West Ben­gal, Sikkim, north­ern parts of As­sam and Arunachal Pradesh); the Western Ghats (con­sist­ing of Ker­ala, Kar­nataka, western parts of Tamil Nadu, Goa, western parts of Maharashtra and south­ern Gu­jarat); and The Sun­da­land (which in­cludes the Ni­co­bar Is­lands). Th­ese re­gions are iden­ti­fied among the 34 global bio­di­ver­sity hot spots.

About 25 per cent of In­dian plants are en­demic to the coun­try. J D Hooker (a Bri­tish botanist and ex­plorer of the 19th cen­tury who was the first one to col­lect plants from the Hi­malayas) in his seven-vol­ume work on flora of Bri­tish In­dia wrote about 14,300 species of flow­er­ing plants. Bri­tish In­dia then com­prised of In­dia, Pak­istan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Ti­bet, Bangladesh, Myan­mar, Sri Lanka and Malayan Penin­sula. If one con­sid­ers the present bound­ary of In­dia, as many as 4,381 taxa are en­demic to the coun­try. Many species once con­sid­ered en­demic to this re­gion is now be­ing dis­cov­ered in other bio­geo­graphic re­gions. Re­cent es­ti­mates show that a to­tal of 18,159 species of an­giosperms, 77 species of gym­nosperms,1,274 species of pteri­do­phytes, 14,936 species of fungi, 2,531 species of bryophytes and 2,434 species of lichens are found in In­dia.

This could be just the tip of the ice­berg. The knowl­edge on the flora is im­prov­ing rapidly by floris­tic ex­plo­rations and doc­u­men­ta­tions, which is re­sult­ing in many dis­cov­er­ies for the In­dian flora.

PARAMJIT SINGH Di­rec­tor, Botan­i­cal Sur­vey of In­dia, Kolkata

S S DASH Sci­en­tist, Botan­i­cal Sur­vey of In­dia, Kolkata

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