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New advance on the identification and conservation of a critically endangered liana species, Eleutharrhena macrocarpa
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Accurate identification of endangered species is a prerequisite for their conservation. Understanding how threats shape the current realized niche of declining species may effectively improve conservation policies. Eleutharrhena macrocarpa (Menispermaceae) is considered as critically endangered plant species with extremely small populations. However, the recognition of E. macrocarpa has been controversial, which hinders its effective conservation.
The development of molecular phylogenetics, especially DNA barcoding method, have provided additional tools for improving species identifications. A research group led by Prof. WANG Wei from the Institute of Botany of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (IBCAS) used phylogenetic analyses, in combination with morphological data, to recognize the real E. macrocarpa from the two species with pinnately nerved and triplinerved leaves, and then to model the change in the distribution of E. macrocarpa using the ‘niche reduction hypothesis’.
The researchers document that the E. macrocarpa with pinnate-nerved leaves is real, whereas the so-called E. macrocarpa with triplinerved leaves is actually a member of Haematocarpus, a new record genus in China. The distributional range of E. macrocarpa has undergone a dramatic contraction over the last 100 years and will further shrink southwestwards in the future.
The researchers recommend ITS/ITS2 as a DNA barcode to identify E. macrocarpa and other liana plants. Liana diversity might have been underestimated. Future field investigations should pay more attention to lianas, which should be identified by an integration of molecular and morphological data. Importantly, they point out the need for in-situ conservation of E. macrocarpa populations, and suggest establishing a large nature reserve in southern and western Yunnan to effectively protect E. macrocarpa and other declining species that exhibit similar distribution and habitat requirements. It is the first time that the niche reduction hypothesis is applied to endangered plant species.
"This study will promote the accurate identification and biodiversity investigations of endangered lianas and highlights the significance of taxonomy and molecular phylogenetics in biological conservation.", said Prof. WANG Wei, correspondence author of the study.
The above study has been published online in Taxon.

Identification of the real Eleutharrhena macrocarpa (Image by IBCAS)
Article Link: http://doi.org/10.1002/tax.12542
Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences

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