An international team of eight scientists from Thailand, New Zealand, France, and the U.S., conducted fieldwork in New Caledonia during September and October, 2012. New Caledonia is one of the world’s 35 biodiversity hotspots (and one of the smallest—about the size of New Jersey) with exceptional biological and ecological diversity. This group of islands is located in the South Pacific at the southern extremity of the Melanesian region, 1,200 km east of Australia. Matt von Konrat (Adjunct Curator and Collections Manager, Botany) led a four-week expedition collecting early land plants (liverworts, mosses and hornworts), ferns, and lichenized fungi, with funding from the National Science Foundation, The Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund and the Negaunee Foundation. The fieldwork is part of a long-term project investigating spore-producing organisms in the South Pacific led and coordinated by Field Museum scientists. The multi-disciplinary team included the Botany Dept.’s Thorsten Lumbsch (Associate Curator and Chair) and Juan Larraín (Postdoctoral Research Scientist). An expedition of this scale for these organisms in New Caledonia is unprecedented. The trip yielded over 5,000 specimens, with dozens of new generic and species records for the island, and probably several new species to science, including a new tree fern species discovered by Dr. Leon Perrie of Te Papa Museum, New Zealand. Louis Thouvenot of the Muséum National d'histoire Naturelle in Paris was instrumental in facilitating the expedition. Louis worked tirelessly in organising and coordinating the field work, including liason with authorities for permits and permission from local landowners. The entire team is extraodinarily grateful to all his efforts. The expedition also had tremendous support from the Association pour la Conservation en Cogestion du Mont Panié, Dayu Biik Kumanim, Province Sud and Province Nord - Direction de l'environnement, and many guides that made the trip a great success.
Photo: New Caledonia, Juan Larraín
- Thorsten Lumbsch (The Field Museum, Chicago, U.S.A.)
- Khwanruan Papong (Mahasarakham University, Khamrieng, Thailand)
- Leon Perrie (Te Papa Museum, Wellington, Aotearoa/New Zealand)
Bryophytes (mosses, liverworts and hornworts)
- Matt von Konrat (The Field Museum, Chicago, U.S.A.)
- Juan Larraín (The Field Museum, Chicago, U.S.A.)
- Blanka Shaw (Duke University, Durham, U.S.A.)
- Louis Thouvenot (Muséum National d'histoire Naturelle)
Photo: Matt von Konrat
The Ecological Importance of Early Land : Bryophytes and lichens play a major ecological role. Both groups form an important and conspicuous component of the vegetation in many regions of the world, including the Pacific islands. The small size of these organisms enables them to respond rapidly to environmental and ecological change offering them great utility in conservation science. For example, bryophytes and lichens play a significant role in the global carbon budget and CO2 exchange, plant succession, and nutrient cycling. As such, they have been used as indicators of past climate change, to validate climate models, and as early indicators of global warming.
Purpose: A key focus was collecting specimens of the liverwort genus Frullania - a hyper-diverse lineage descended from early land plants. Scientists from the Field Museum and Duke University are investigating the taxonomy and systematics of Frullania as part of an NSF funded project (see DEB 1145898, PI M. von Konrat; DEB 1146168, PI B. Shaw). Liverworts (Marchantiophyta) are pivotal in the understanding of early land plant evolution and exist as important components of the vegetation in many regions of the world. The project represents an unprecedented investigation of this scale on a leafy liverwort genus, so-called because of the leafy plant structure. Field work in New Caledonia is also part of a larger project investigating bryophytes, lichenized fungi and ferns of the South Pacific. To date, an intensive effort has been made to explore the islands of Fiji, which is part of another biodiversity hotspot -referred to as the Polynesia-Micronesia hotspot. The Polynesia-Micronesia hotspot is considered as the epicenter of the current global extinction crisis (Conservation International).
Check out these Blogs by Dr. Leon Perrie:
- Radio interview with Dr. Leon Perrie about the discovery of an undescribed tree fern species.
Acknowledgements: Financial support from multiple agencies and individuals are gratefully acknowledged, including The Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, the Negaunee Foundation, and the National Science Foundation (DEB 1145898, PI M. von Konrat; DEB 1146168, PI B. Shaw).