Faculty of Science Biologists search for long-forgotten plants in Borneo

Photo: Martin Dančák
Thursday 19 January 2023, 10:00 – Text: Šárka Chovancová

Two biologists from the Faculty of Science will head to Borneo on Saturday to rediscover long-forgotten plant species, having previously found completely new plant species on this Southeast Asian island. The three-year research project, ‘Discovering New Species – Do We Really Not Care? The genus Thismia (Thismiaceae) in Borneo and Sumatra’ was supported by the Czech Science Foundation).

Martin Dančák from the Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences of the Faculty of Science will fly to Borneo with his colleague Michal Sochor. “We are going to the island now, because the rainy season, the most suitable period for the occurrence of the plants we are studying, is in January and February. We have selected several species of the genus Thismia which we want to rediscover in Borneo during our expedition. These are plants that were described e.g. in the 19th century, and have not been seen in the wild since. We will go to their original locations, where natural biotopes still exist, so there is a high probability that we can rediscover these supposedly lost plant species,” said Dančák.

The optimism of the scientists is based on the fact that in 2020 they rediscovered the plant Thismia neptunis in Borneo, which had not been seen in the wild for 150 years. “These are the ‘forgotten’ species. Then we will also focus on another group of Thismiaceae, whose existence we know about from photographs, and is evident that these are new and as yet undescribed species. We will try to find, document, and scientifically describe them on the island,” said Dančák. Faculty of Science scientists have previously found in Borneo, for example, the smallest Thismia species and a new species of carnivorous tropical pitcher plant.

If the pair of biologists manage to again find plants in Borneo that were last described more than a hundred years ago, they will examine them in detail. “We plan to make new descriptions, because some go back to the 19th century and are no longer sufficient for today’s standards. We will therefore document the plant in photographs, describe it, and write an article for a professional journal,” said Sochor.

Martin Dančák also pointed out that in recent years and decades, interest in discovering new plant species has dimmed as scientists have focused on more fiscally supported fields, such as applied research or developments in molecular biology. “The discovery of new plant species has become the domain of amateurs rather than professional scientists. However, the grant we received shows that this interesting issue has not been completely neglected and the current scientific community is aware that this kind of research is also important for the further development of our knowledge,” he added.


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