- Syzygium is a genus of flowering trees and shrubs in the myrtle family that contains more than 1,500 species.
- Only 14 of those were previously known to occur on Sulawesi, the world’s eleventh-largest island, however. By comparison, Borneo, Sulawesi’s larger neighbor to the west, is home to around 200 Syzygium species.
- Due to the rate of tropical forest destruction across Indonesia, according to the researchers who discovered the new Syzygium species, three of the five newly described species on Sulawesi qualify for an endangered listing on the IUCN Red List.
The Indonesian island of Sulawesi’s unique fauna has received far more attention than its flora. But the authors of a study describing five new tree species — the first new species belonging to the world’s largest tree genus found on Sulawesi in 167 years — hope to change that.
Syzygium is a genus of flowering trees and shrubs in the myrtle family that contains more than 1,500 species. Only 14 of those were previously known to occur on Sulawesi, the world’s eleventh-largest island, however. By comparison, Borneo, Sulawesi’s larger neighbor to the west (and the third largest island in the world), is home to around 200 Syzygium species.
PhD student Fabian Brambach was part of a team of ecologists with Germany’s University of Göttingen who collected specimens of the newly discovered species while doing fieldwork in the mountain rainforests of Sulawesi’s Lore Lindu National Park. The researchers couldn’t identify some of the myrtle species they’d sampled when they got back to their lab. Brambach says that, in addition to the general lack of knowledge about the botanical richness of Sulawesi, that might be due to the abundance of known species in Syzygium, which could have discouraged researchers from focusing on the genus in the past.
“This is probably why our basic knowledge of the taxonomy of Syzygium hasn’t improved much since the early days of botanical exploration of the region in the first half of the 19th century,” Brambach, the lead author of a paper describing the five new species published in the journal PhytoKeys this month, said in a statement.
Brambach and team turned to James Byng, who is director of Plant Gateway, a botanical research group and publisher, as well as a research fellow at Naturalis Biodiversity Centre in the Netherlands. Byng, a co-author of the PhytoKeys paper, is working on a global taxonomic revision of the genus Syzygium, and he says he was not surprised by the discovery of the new species on Sulawesi.
“After extensive screening of herbarium specimens from Sulawesi, I had estimated around 90 additional species to be present on the island, most of which are not yet named and probably only occur there,” Byng said. “This would mean we only currently know around 13% of the island’s real diversity.”
“These are the first descriptions of Syzygium species from the island since Blume (1850, Jambosa celebica and J. cornifolia), highlighting the significant lack of taxonomic research on the genus for the region,” the authors write in the study. They proposed the names Syzygium balgooyi, Syzygium contiguum, Syzygium devogelii, Syzygium eymae, and Syzygium galanthum for the new species.
The authors add that it is critical for us to better understand the Syzygium species inhabiting Sulawesi’s forests: “Species of Syzygium are present in virtually all ecosystems of Sulawesi, and are often important components of the biological communities, so the lack of taxonomic resolution presents a serious impediment for a better understanding of ecological processes as well as for conservation efforts on the island.”
Due to the rate of tropical forest destruction across Indonesia, according to the researchers, three of the five newly described species on Sulawesi qualify for an endangered listing on the IUCN Red List. That makes botanical study of the island all the more pressing, study co-author Heike Culmsee of the German Federal Foundation for the Environment said.
“In this time of rapid species loss worldwide, cooperation between field ecologists and herbarium taxonomists is important to document the vast diversity of organisms in understudied regions, such as tropical mountain forests, especially for large and complicated groups like Syzygium.”
- Brambach, F., Byng, J.W., & Culmsee, H. (2017). Five new species of Syzygium (Myrtaceae) from Sulawesi, Indonesia. PhytoKeys 81: 47-78. doi:10.3897/phytokeys.81.13488
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