Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

New plant species a microcosm of biodiversity

Date:
February 7, 2014
Source:
Pensoft Publishers
Summary:
Biologists working in the Andes mountains of Ecuador have described a new plant species, a wild relative of black pepper, that is the sole home of an estimated 40-50 insect species, most of which are entirely dependent on this plant species for survival. This discovery is part of a larger project which focuses on the influence of plant-produced chemical compounds on biodiversity.

The newly described species of wild black pepper, Piper kelleyi, in its native habitat (left). The pinkish undersides of the leaves (upper right) gave this species the nickname "pink belly" among members of the research team. The flowers (center right) and fruits (lower right) are not very showy, but the fruits do have some of black pepper's familiar pungency.
Credit: E.J. Tepe; CC-BY 4.0

Biologists working in the Andes mountains of Ecuador have described a new plant species, a wild relative of black pepper, that is in itself a mini biodiversity hotspot. The new species, Piper kelleyi, is the sole home of an estimated 40-50 insect species, most of which are entirely dependent on this plant species for survival. This discovery is part of a larger project which focuses on the influence of plant-produced chemical compounds on biodiversity.

The study was published in the open access journal PhytoKeys.

The chemical compounds produced by plants are source of plants' unique flavors, aromas, and colors. What's less appreciated is that these compounds often have important medicinal or toxic properties, and are the plant's natural way to resist pesky herbivores. Black pepper and its wild relatives produce a wide diversity of chemical compounds, many of which are known to be biologically active (in fact, several compounds from the new species are currently under evaluation, and show promise as possible anti-cancer drugs). These compounds are known to deter most herbivores, but a certain group of caterpillars has been able to overcome their toxicity and, as a result, most species of the genus feed only on a single species of wild black pepper. To make matters more complex, each of these caterpillars typically has one to several predatory wasp and/or fly species that attack only that caterpillar species.

Our team of scientists has made nearly 30,000 observations of over 100 black pepper relatives over 20+ years, and the new plant species described here supports the largest number of specialized caterpillar and predator species recorded for species in the black pepper family to date. Many of these insect species were discovered as a result of our investigations and are new to science (many remain unnamed). Piper kelleyi supports an estimated 40-50 species of specialized herbivores and predators, which makes this newly described plant species, in itself, a veritable biodiversity hotspot. Are there any vertebrate species that depend on this plant? Nobody knows, but relatives of black pepper are often important food sources for vertebrates, such as bats and birds, that specialize on their fruits or feed on associated insects.

This finding has conservation implications as well. The insect species that make up this unusually large assemblage are, for the most part, entirely dependent on the new plant species and, if the plant were to disappear, all of its associated animal species would too.

Evidence suggests that the unique compounds produced by a plant species, or the unique combination of these compounds, help drive the evolution of biological diversity, not only among the herbivores that feed directly on the plants, but among higher trophic levels as well. The discovery of our new species, along with its large cohort of dependent insects, lends considerable support to the hypothesis that a suite of new species of herbivores and predators of those herbivores evolves in response to the evolution of novel plant-produced chemical compounds.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Pensoft Publishers. The original story is licensed under a Creative Commons License. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Eric Tepe, Genoveva Rodríguez-Castañeda, Andrea Glassmire, Lee Dyer. Piper kelleyi, a hotspot of ecological interactions and a new species from Ecuador and Peru. PhytoKeys, 2014; 34: 19 DOI: 10.3897/phytokeys.34.6376

Cite This Page:

Pensoft Publishers. "New plant species a microcosm of biodiversity." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 February 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140207114138.htm>.
Pensoft Publishers. (2014, February 7). New plant species a microcosm of biodiversity. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140207114138.htm
Pensoft Publishers. "New plant species a microcosm of biodiversity." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140207114138.htm (accessed August 21, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Possible Ebola Patient in Isolation at California Hospital

Possible Ebola Patient in Isolation at California Hospital

Reuters - US Online Video (Aug. 20, 2014) — A patient who may have been exposed to the Ebola virus is in isolation at the Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center. Linda So reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Flower Power! Dandelions Make Car Tires?

Flower Power! Dandelions Make Car Tires?

Reuters - Business Video Online (Aug. 20, 2014) — Forget rolling on rubber, could car drivers soon be traveling on tires made from dandelions? Teams of scientists are racing to breed a type of the yellow flower whose taproot has a milky fluid with tire-grade rubber particles in it. As Joanna Partridge reports, global tire makers are investing millions in research into a new tire source. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Unsustainable Elephant Poaching Killed 100K In 3 Years

Unsustainable Elephant Poaching Killed 100K In 3 Years

Newsy (Aug. 20, 2014) — Poachers have killed 100,000 elephants between 2010 and 2012, as the booming ivory trade takes its toll on the animals in Africa. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Awesome New Camouflage Sheet Was Inspired By Octopus Skin

Awesome New Camouflage Sheet Was Inspired By Octopus Skin

Newsy (Aug. 19, 2014) — Scientists have developed a new device that mimics the way octopuses blend in with their surroundings to hide from dangerous predators. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins