Trip preparations have began with full steam! Having prepared and organised our collection permit applications for our trip, I am now focusing on gathering locality information. This means going through all specimens of my target species, which are the Morelloid species of the genus Solanum. These include about 65 species closely related to tomato and potato.
Museum collections can help enourmously in finding these species in the wild. Each museum specimen carries with it some information about the locality the specimen was found in. These localities can aid in finding these species in the wild again, as long as the habitats remain relatively undisturbed. The main reason for going to the field is to get a chance to observe species in their natural habitats, which inturn helps taxonomists like us to fully understand species delimitation - simply put, this means understanding what constitutes a species, and how species differ from each other. Often it is extremely difficult to understand where one species ends and another begins based on old material alone. Imagine standing there with a latin description in one hand ! and a poor quality specimen from 18th century in the other = It's not always so exciting to be a scientist !
Our second aim is to record as many occurrences of any species of Solanaceae in order to study how plant distributions change through time, and how species might respond to climate change in the future. Currently, many species are still only known from less than five specimens. That means we only know less than five populations for these species! This is just not good enough, and more is needed to analyse how species might respond to change - whether this is climate change or change in land use due to increased pressure from growing human population. There are many weeds in the world but majority of species are poorly known endemics that we need tokeep collecting.