Monday, April 19, 2010

BBG Announces Important Plant Biodiversity Findings


New York Metropolitan Flora Project (NYMF) data, gathered over the course of the last 20 years, provides the first hard evidence on how native species are faring, and how non-native species are spreading, in counties within a 50-mile radius of New York City, including all of Long Island, southeastern New York State, northern New Jersey and Fairfield County, Connecticut.


While much of the botanical community concentrates on researching and tracking the threats to biodiversity in the tropics, scientists at BBG have chosen to undertake an unprecedented study of its own region.

At least 50 varieties of native plants are locally extinct or nearing elimination. Nuttall’s mudflower (Micranthemum micranthemoides), last collected from the region in 1918, is likely extinct throughout its range. Scarlet Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea), pennywort (Obolaria virginica), sidebells wintergreen (Orthilia secunda), and sundial lupine (Lupinis perennis) are among the wildflower species to have seriously declined in the region. Black crowberry (Empetrum nigrum) is locally extinct, without a trace of a population remaining today in the metropolitan area.

At the same time, “A number of invasive species introduced from distant areas, with climates similar to ours—such as parts of Asia, Europe, and the southeastern United States—are newly thriving in the New York area,” says Dr. Gerry Moore, director of science at Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and coordinator of the New York Metropolitan Flora Project. “Camphor weed, native to the southern United States, is common in Brooklyn now; however, at the time of the Garden’s founding a century ago, it was considered to be quite rare.”

Although agencies and municipalities may wish to restore native species to particular habitats, the NYMF findings suggest that some native species can no longer survive in their native region. “How do you restore the flora original to, say, a coastline, when you know that the sea level is rising each year?” asks Dr. Moore.

Some native plants, like Britton’s violet (Viola britoniana), are rare in native habitats but thrive when brought into cultivation in the metropolitan area. Some non-native cultivated plants, such as Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), can escape from cultivated landscape and dominate natural areas. Efforts are now underway to better recognize and manage for these invasive plant species, which thrive and spread aggressively outside their natural range and can be particularly invasive when introduced to a new habitat, due to the absence of insects, diseases, and animals that naturally keep its population in check in its native region.


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