5 New Plant Species Discovered in Bolivia

These specimens may shed insight into how plants respond and adapt to global warming.

Jacquemontia cumanensis.
Jacquemontia cumanensis.

Alexander Parada

Rapid biodiversity losses across South America and around the world mean we risk losing plant species that we did not even know we have. Identifying these species is an important step towards protecting them, and towards understanding better the ecosystem in which they are found. Now, scientists have discovered five new plant species in the Bolivian Andes.

The new study comes from the Universities of Exeter and Oxford, and the Royal Botanical Gardens of Kew. It classifies and describes the 28 different species of Jacquemontia which are now known to be found in Bolivia and Peru. The finding is published in a paper—called "Jacquemontia (Convolvulaceae) in Bolivia and Peru—published in the journal Kew Bulletin.

"Many plant species have not been identified and classified, especially in the tropics," said Rosie Clegg, of the University of Exeter and Kew, in a statement. "If you don't know what a species is, you can't conserve it."

The New Plant Species

The plants identified in this study are all in the genus Jacquemontia. These twining or trailing plants are characterized by their attractive blue flowers. While the genus does not have particularly profound economic or ecological importance, a few plants within the genus are grown as ornamental garden plants. 

The five newly described species are named:

  • Jacquemontia boliviana
  • Jaquemontia chuquisacensis
  • Jacquemontia cuspidata
  • Jacquemontia longipedunculata
  • Jacquemontia mairae

Plants in this genus often grow in open, grassy habitats. However, there are a number of species within this genus that are highly specialized, and which can thrive even on bare rock with very little soil and very little water. Some require fire for seed germination. At present, some of the new species are known to exist only in one specific location. 

The limited range of specialized plants makes them particularly vulnerable to threats such as invasive species, and human-caused habitat loss. Scientists need to learn more about these species in order to be able to better understand and protect them. 

This work is crucial because of ever-present and intensifying threats in the region and globally, which threaten to accelerate biodiversity losses.

Jacquemontia blanchetii.
Jacquemontia blanchetii. A: Maira Tatiana Martinez; B: Darwin Initiative Project 16-004.

The Importance of Species Identification and Classification

One important thing to understand is many plant species in the tropics have not been identified and classified. We often know surprisingly little about the flora in some of the most precious and crucial ecosystems in the world. The identification of these new species, some of which are relatively rare, is a great step forward. 

Collaboration between those on the ground in Bolivia and institutions in the United Kingdom is important for the conservation of species and their habitats. By understanding the species identified better, we can learn more about the ecosystems on the Andean slopes on which they are found. And can potentially learn a variety of lessons that will help in conservation and climate mitigation and adaptation work elsewhere. 

"Rock outcrops come in many forms across South America, with different geologies and different plants living on them," said Clegg. "As well as identifying plants, we want to learn more about these habitats and the role they play in wider ecosystems. Jacquemontia and other plants on rock outcrops are able to survive in very harsh conditions, so through them we can learn more about how plants might respond and adapt to climate change."

Studying rare plants which thrive in more extreme environments can often help us understand adaptability better, which could help not only preserve these specific species, but also other plant species in the future. 

Increasing our knowledge of the plant world, particularly in the world's most ecologically vulnerable regions, is crucial to halting biodiversity losses and to ecosystem conservation and restoration. This is one more reminder of the importance of this matter. And also a reminder of how little we actually know when it comes to our own natural world, and how much more there is yet to discover. 

View Article Sources
  1. Wood, John R. I., and Rosemary Clegg. "Jacquemontia (Convolvulaceae) in Bolivia and Peru." Kew Bulletin, 2021, doi:10.1007/s12225-021-09936-5