Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Lost tree species unexpectedly re-discovered in Indonesia

Lost tree species unexpectedly re-discovered in Indonesia The rediscovered Kalappia tree (Image: Liam Trethowan, Manchester Metropolitan University)
11 Jul
2019

While carrying out fieldwork in the Indonesian rainforest, near the settlements of Abuki and Kolaka on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, as part of a research trip to Asia, Liam Trethowan (a PhD Ecology student), spotted a group of Kalappia trees around 200km from where it was last sighted back in the 1970s. Trethowan published his findings in Ecology, the journal of the Ecological Society of America, entitled: An enigmatic genus on an enigmatic island: The re‐discovery of Kalappia on Sulawesi.

Stay connected with the Geographical newsletter!
signup buttonSince its inception in 1935, Geographical has reported on many thousands of global issues, allowing readers to look past the boundaries and borders of our world and take a broader perspective. In these turbulent times, we’re still committed to telling expansive stories from across the globe, highlighting the everyday lives of normal but extraordinary people. Stay informed and engaged with Geographical.

Get Geographical’s latest news delivered straight to your inbox every Friday!

Speaking about his discovery, Trethowan said: ‘No reports of the tree had been made since the 1970s and experts believed the tree must be extinct. I was really keen to go into under-explored parts of the forest whilst in Indonesia because that is where new or long since lost species can be found. It is also very rare to find rain forest trees in flower, which meant we could photo and closely examine this species for the very first time.’

sulawesiSulawesi, Indonesia

The Kalappia tree can grow up to 40m tall and has bright yellow flowers that feature a unique spike, known as spurs, that are used by bees when they feed at the flower. The bees create vibrations that cause the flower to release pollen, which they transport to other trees to allow them to reproduce. The Kalappia is part of the Fabaceae or Leguminosae, often referred to as the legume, pea, or bean family, which is an important family of flowering plants and is the third largest land plant family in terms of number of species. It includes around 670 genera and nearly 20,000 species of trees, shrubs, vines and herbs.

For years, Kalappia was exploited for its commercial value. It was used for house construction, shipbuilding, the construction of bridges and furniture manufacture. This practice, as well as nickel mining and gas extraction, led to mass deforestation and to the drastic reduction in numbers of the Kalappia tree. In 1988, the International Union for Conservation of Nature categorised the species as ‘vulnerable’.

deforestationDeforestation in Indonesia has left many tree species vulnerable

Francis Brearley, a senior lecturer in ecology at Manchester Metropolitan University and supervisor of the PhD research project, added: ‘The rediscovery of Kalappia highlights the lack of knowledge and information we have about the forests we have around us – we could be losing species that are actually just hidden in these areas. The failure to collect data is due to difficulties with accessibility in these areas. However, to gather baseline knowledge about rare and threatened species, exploration of remote areas is crucial and should be encouraged and, crucially, financially supported.’

Trethowan’s discovery of Kalappia and its close relatives in the legume family has raised hope among conservationists that many trees thought to be endangered or extinct may still survive in remote and under explored areas. It has offered the chance to learn more about why plants are able to survive in different environments. After closer examination of Kalappia and its relatives, Trethowan found that these species grow in harsh metal-rich environments. For example, Kalapia trees are mainly found on rocky soils containing iron. He suggests that due to this, these trees might also be able to tolerate and survive in the harsh, arid environments of Australia. As the Earth’s climate changes and rain forests experience more droughts and become more difficult habitats for plants to survive in, these findings may help researchers understand which plant groups will survive in the future.

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our weekly newsletter and get a free collection of eBooks!

geo line break v3

Related items

Julysub 2020

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

geo line break v3

geo line break v3

University of Winchester

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Oceans

Researchers have revealed just how many polluting microfibres are released…

Wildlife

Increasing reports of seized jaguar fangs and skin suggest that…

Geophoto

Forced isolation has given many of us the chance to…

Oceans

A fifth of the ocean floor has now been mapped,…

Wildlife

Four ex-circus lions discovered in France are due to be…

Oceans

A roundup of some of the top discussions from the…

Energy

The agave plant, used to make Tequila, has proven itself…

Climate

Concerns about the ozone hole have diminished as levels of…

Wildlife

In the Eastern Cape of South Africa, Munu – a…

Geophoto

Photography competition, Earth Photo, returns for the third year with…

Oceans

A new study reveals the process behind the strange phenomenon…

Wildlife

Hunting is a topic that attracts polarised viewpoints. But as…

Oceans

A compilation of 50-years worth of data on human activity…

Wildlife

From the US to the Mediterranean, herds of goats are…

Wildlife

Meet the 2020 Whitley Award winners

Wildlife

Protecting the most famous members of the animal kingdom may…