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Coral-like plant discovered in remote Aurora forest.

It has the appearance of a coral, but to see this newly discovered species you need hiking boots rather than mask and snorkel.

This remarkable coral - like species is actually a parasitic plant that grows in a cloud forest on a remote mountain ridge in the Philippines, and was collected by botanists from University of Canterbury, New Zealand, and the National Museum of the Philippines.

It was selected as one of the Top 10 New Species for 2015 from over 18,000 contenders by the International Institute for Species Exploration, State University of New York.

This discovery and many more, are part of a unique citizen science project being led by UC's husband and wife couple Drs. Pieter Pelser and Julie Barcelona, who are building a photographic record of the flora of the Philippines using the power of social media.


An international committee of Taxonomists and related experts selected the top 10 from among the approximately 18,000 new species named during the previous year and released to coincide with the birth anniversary of Carolus Linnaeus on 23 May, an 18th century Swedish botanist, the father of modern taxonomy.

The annual top 10 list has been created to draw public awareness to the growing biodiversity crisis, to highlight the important role of taxonomy, and to advance cybertaxonomy, the application of online and digital tools to accelerate and improve species discovery and classification.

"You cannot protect plants and animals that you don't know exist. That is one of the reasons why taxonomy is such an important field of biology," Barcelona explained.

The newly discovered plant, known as Balanophora coralliformis to scientists, was described in the journal Phytotaxa by taxonomic botanists Drs Pieter Pelser and Julie Barcelona of the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, and Mr. Danilo Tandang of the National Museum of the Philippines.

"Seeing three of the most iconic species of the Philippine jungles in such close proximity, is certainly the most exciting experience in my 25 years of fieldwork," Barcelona said.

This unusual plant was found within an unprotected mountainous area of rich biodiversity in Aurora province. Along the same mountain range, the researchers also spotted the critically endangered national bird, the Philippine eagle, as well as the giant flowers of Rafflesia species, the panda of the plant world.


The sound of chainsaws was even more spine tingling. Illegal logging is eating away this unique forest every day, from dawn until dusk the chorus of destruction roars on.

Inclusion in the Top 10 list will focus global attention on the loss of this unique habitat and may help gain protected status for this area.

The power of citizen science - harnessing Facebook for research a unique approach of using photographs to lead a survey of the flora of the Philippines has been successful in gathering a large amount of data quickly and for little cost.

Many Filipinos have smartphones and these tools have been harnessed to gather biodiversity data that would otherwise take years and cost millions of dollars. Connecting the public with the scientists has been beneficial to both parties.

"Social media are bringing down ivory towers", Pelser said. "It has never been easier for people to get involved in scientific projects and experience the thrill of discovery."


Plants of Balanophora coralliformis were collected during fieldwork supported by the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Nueva Ecija University of Science and Technology (NEUST), National Museum of the Philippines and the New Zealand Marsden Fund, administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand.

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Title Annotation:Metro
Publication:Manila Bulletin
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:May 23, 2015
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