Photographs on the Arkive website have helped two naturalists who had never met and work around 200 miles (310 kms) apart to identify two previously unrecorded species of one of Earth’s oldest flowering plants: the magnolia.
In 2010, Roberto Pedraza Ruiz gave Arkive a series of animal and plant photos he had taken in a life-rich cloud forest within eastern Mexico’s Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve. One of the photos he donated was identified as being the magnolia, Magnolia dealbata, classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.
But the image raised questions for Dr José Antonio Vázquez, a botanist at the University of Guadalajara, when he came across it during a search of Arkive’s 16,000 free-to-view online flora and fauna fact-files.
As Roberto explains: “For Dr Vázquez, the specimen in the photo seemed unusual and he requested that I sent him more pictures. So I made several more trips to the cloud forest, documenting the flowers and fruits of the trees until finally receiving confirmation that I had photographed not only one but two completely new species of magnolias.”
Two new species of magnolia discovered
The first of the finds, originally identified on Arkive, has already been documented and has been given the name Magnolia rzedowskiana, after Dr Jerzy Rzedoswski, Mexico’s most eminent botanist who has collected and documented over 50,000 species and celebrating his 90th birthday this year. A description of the second specimen is about to published and will be named Magnolia pedrazae, after Roberto.
He says: “This is without doubt the highest honour that a conservationist and nature photographer can receive. It means that this incredibly special tree – an endemic of the Sierra Gorda and product of an evolutionary process that spans millennia – has become part of the family.”
Lucie Muir, Director of Wildscreen, added: “We were absolutely thrilled when Roberto told us that a new species of magnolia had been identified because of botanist looking through the images on the Arkive website. It’s amazing that new species are still being discovered and that on this occasion Arkive was part of the discovery story.”
Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda
The use of the Pedraza name is especially apt as it was Roberto’s parents who started the grassroots movement which led to the creation of the Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda (GESG) to look after a section of the eastern Sierra Madre where the high peaks, rain shadow, remoteness and latitude mean biodiversity is especially rich.
Roberto grew up in the region and soon turned to photography as a way of documenting and sharing the area’s biological wealth and GESG’s work to protect it. It was during one of his GESG expeditions in 1996 that Roberto found loggers at work in the cloud forest where the new species of magnolia grow. After he raised the alarm, 40 friends clubbed together to buy the land and halt the operation – so saving a habitat where ancient oaks and cypress reach heights of 130 feet (40 metres), their limbs draped in dense mats of moss, ferns, orchids and bromeliads; and a place where he has photographed many rare or previously unrecorded life-forms, including jaguars, pumas and margays and a new family of molluscs.
Roberto says: “These discoveries highlight the importance of protecting sites with high biological value, giving ecosystems and species refuges from human activity, spaces where they are protected from humans’ ever-increasing demands for land and ecosystem services. If steps had not been taken to protect them, these species and others may have disappeared before we even learned of their existence.”
Find out more about the work of Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda here.