From daily The Guardian in Britain:
Plant genus named after Sir David Attenborough
Key taxonomical classification of rare plant with fleshy flowers discovered in the rainforest of Gabon in central Africa is named after British naturalist
Wednesday 4 February 2015 16.13 GMT
Identified by a team of researchers in Gabon, a renowned botanical hotspot, the Sirdavidia flowering plants are believed to be the first plant genus – a taxonomical ranking one step above a species – named after the broadcaster.
Four-fifths of the central Africa country are covered by rainforest, and researchers expressed surprise at finding a new endemic species and genus in a place considered well-known botanically.
Dr Thomas Couvreur, lead author of the scientific paper describing the plant, said he remembered watching Life on Earth as a boy and Attenborough had inspired him to pursue a career in botany. “Sir David Attenborough has been such a wonderful and important influence in my life and the life of so many. I was really surprised when I realised that no one has named a genus after him before, so I found this discovery an excellent opportunity to honour him with a genus name.”
In a statement, Attenborough said: “I know very well that such a decision is the greatest compliment that a biologist can pay to another and I am truly grateful.”
A 20-million-year old grasshopper trapped in amber was one of the most recent species to be named after Attenborough, following a species of tree in Ecuador (Blakea attenboroughii), a long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus attenboroughi) in New Guinea, and a ghost shrimp found in Madagascar (Ctenocheloides attenboroughi).
The newly-described plant species, Sirdavidia solannona, was found in the Kinguele dam in the Monts de Cristal national park, Mbé sector, and in the Ivindo national park. DNA analysis revealed it warranted its own genus within the custard apple family of plants, Annonaceae.
“It turns out its closest relative is another genus in Tanzania. Even though we have a gap of 1,000km, the east and west African rainforests used to be connected. This is another extreme example of how the two rainforests were connected,” said Couvreur.
He said that the national park where it was found is so well-explored by botanists that a colleague had quipped that he wondered why Couvreur was bothering to visit. “In the tropical rainforests, no species is well known. But in this case, the area is the place to go for botanists, it’s close to the capital, there are facilities for botanists. It just shows in a region that we think is well known you can still have very interesting discoveries.”
The plant has a distinct shape, with red petals and up to 19 bright yellow stamen forming a cone. Couvreur said colleagues who had seen photographs believed the plant could be buzz-pollinated – where the buzz of a bee’s wings causes pollen to move from the stamen to fall on a bee’s tummy, before being carried to pollinate other plants. While just a theory at the moment, the team hope to confirm the method of pollination, which he said would be unique in the Magnoliales order of plants, which includes magnolia.
There have been just three collections of the plant, leading scientists to rank it as on “endangered” using the IUCN Red List scale of threatened species. However, in the locations where the researchers found the plant they noted that “the forest seems to be well protected and thus it is hard to imagine [there being] an important threat [to the plant] in the near future.”