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Seeing see the figs for the trees, or 'What we see depends mainly on what we look for'

Identifying biodiversity hotspots on the island of New Guinea: a case study using a keystone species




Thomas Starnes

PhD student, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Friday 5 July 11:00
Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)

The Island of New Guinea is floristically one of the most bio-diverse regions on earth, with an estimated 15,000 - 25,000 plant species, many of which are threatened or endangered. One genus of particular ecological interest is the figs (Ficus, Moraceae), the island playing host to to 151 of the 367 species known from the Flora Malesiana region. Several of the sub-genera have clear centres of diversity on the island and c. 70% of the Ficus species known from New Guinea are endemic. Figs areoften described as ‘keystone’ species in tropical forests and provide a year-round food source for birds, bats, marsupials and other mammals. Economic uses include cooking, textiles, dyes and medicine. With the ever-growing threat of deforestation and resource extraction such as open cast mining in both Papua New Guinea and Indonesian Papua, it is more important than ever to discover the areas which support the highest diversity of endemic, endangered and economically important species. This information can ultimately be used to direct conservation effort, or in the meantime to highlight areas in need of further botanical collection. For this project, label information from over 2, 000 historical and contemporary New Guinea Ficus collections in the herbarium at Kew was recorded in an Microsoft Access database. The specimens were then georeferenced using a range of resources including expedition maps, topographic surveys and online gazetteers. The point data were then plotted using ArcMap 10. When viewing the geographic spread of the data it soon became evident that there was a strong spatial collection bias in the data with many collections being made in and around large settlements and major roads. In an attempt to resolve for this, we employed ecological niche modelling (ENM) using Maxentversion 3.3.3, manipulated in ArcGIS 10. These models help us to predict habitat suitability based on species' favoured environmental niche, and give some indication of potential distributions for species of which we have fewfield collection records. At this stage 19 bioclimatic variable layers, including annual and seasonal temperature and precipitation, have been used to predict ecological niche suitability for Ficus in New Guinea. We hope to include further variables such as solar radiation, geology and soil type infuture models.This is part of a wider project by the South East Asia & Pacific Regional Team at Kew looking at the biodiversity of New Guinea flora.



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