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Two new species of carnivorous plants discovered in Ecuador

A team of botanists from Ecuador, Germany, and the United States have discovered two new species of carnivorous plants. The species are both part of the genus Pinguicula, which is a group of flowering plants known as butterworts. 

Butterworts are capable of catching and digesting small insects with their sticky leaves. The new species were found in the high Andes of southern Ecuador, near the border with Peru. This discovery is significant because the majority of butterwort species are distributed in the northern hemisphere.

Carnivorous plants are plants that have evolved to capture and digest small animals, usually insects, in order to obtain additional nutrients that are lacking in their soil or environment. These plants have developed specialized structures, such as sticky leaves or traps, that allow them to catch and consume their prey.

There are many different types of carnivorous plants, including sundews, Venus flytraps, pitcher plants, and bladderworts, among others. Each type of carnivorous plant has its own unique adaptations and mechanisms for catching and digesting prey.

Carnivorous plants are found in a variety of environments, but they are most commonly found in nutrient-poor habitats, such as bogs, swamps, and other wetlands. These plants are able to thrive in these environments by supplementing their nutrient intake with the nutrients obtained from their prey.

The new Pinguicula species, Pinguicula jimburensis and Pinguicula ombrophila, were found in small-scale habitats within the Amotape-Huancabamba zone. This region is characterized by exceptional biodiversity due in part to the fact that the rugged terrain and varied climate of the Andes provide many microhabitats. 

Pinguicula jimburensis was found on the shore of a highland lagoon at 3,400 meters, while Pinguicula ombrophila was found on a nearly vertical rock face at 2,900 meters.

Study senior author Tilo Henning is an expert at the Leibniz Center for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF), who specializes in this plant family in this region. Álvaro Pérez of the Pontifica Universidad Catolica del Ecuador and his team were the first to discover the plants, before contacting Henning.

“Both of these new species are only known from a single location, where only a few dozens of plant individuals occur in each case,” said Henning. He explained that this narrow endemism, or limited distribution in a particular area, is typical of the Amotape-Huancabamba zone, and there are many more new plant and animal species awaiting discovery. 

“The results presented in this study show that the assessment of the Neotropical biodiversity is far from complete. Even in well-known groups such as the carnivorous plants, new taxa are continuously discovered and described, in particular from remote areas that become accessible in the course of the unlimited urban sprawl,” wrote the researchers. “This is both encouraging and worrying at the same time”.

“Relentless urban sprawl and the accompanying destruction of habitats pose a massive threat to biodiversity in general, and to the tightly-knit and specialized organisms that depend on their fragile microhabitats in particular,” said Henning.

While the two new species are relatively safe from direct human interference, as they both occur within protected areas, human-induced climate change is increasingly affecting ecosystems regardless of location, especially those that rely on regular precipitation, such as mountain wetlands.

The dependence on a constant climate is even reflected in the name of one of the two new species: Pinguicula ombrophila means “rain-loving butterwort,” as the plant prefers very wet conditions, receiving moisture from the waterlogged paramo-soil and enjoying the frequent rain and fog typical for this area. 

With the discovery of these two new species, the number of Pinguicula species recorded in Ecuador has tripled, as previously only P. calyptrata was known, discovered by none other than Alexander von Humboldt. The authors are convinced that there are many more new species of carnivorous plants around the world waiting to be discovered.

The study is published in the journal PhytoKeys

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