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
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.