Kalāheo, Kaua‘i, Hawai‘i, August 18, 2017 – A newly described tree species known only from the island of Kaua‘i has been published by PhytoKeys, the open access, peer-reviewed botanical journal.
First collected and documented as early as 1988, the new species Melicope stonei, is named for British-American botanist Benjamin Clemens Masterman Stone, a British-American botanist known for his keen insights into the genus Melicope.
Endemic to the Hawaiian island of Kaua‘i, Melicope stonei is in the Rutaceae or citrus family and proposed as Critically Endangered according to criteria of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Scientists believe the newly described species is restricted to unique old growth forests that feature a combination of tree species found only on Kaua‘i. Less than one hundred individual trees have been mapped by botanists in regions with high canopy mesic forests on lands managed by the Division of Forestry and Wildlife and Hawai‘i State Parks.
The volcanic island of Kaua‘i is the oldest high-elevation Hawaiian island and characterized by deeply eroded drainages, well-defined canyons, and tall coastal seacliffs. Kaua‘i is also the most botanically rich of the Hawaiian Islands and known to have some 250 plant species which are endemic (found nowhere else).
Representatives of this new species have been measured between 5 and 12 meters in height and are characterized by large leaves with a soft underside and flowers that spring directly from branches below the tree’s leaves.
Melicope stonei and its unique habitat are threatened by degradation from introduced pigs and deer, seed predation by rats, competition with invasive, non-native plants, and environmental events like hurricanes and brush fires. In the newly published paper, the team of scientists from the Kaua‘i-based National Tropical Botanical Garden, the Smithsonian Institution, and the University of Göttingen, Germany raised concerns about the conservation status of this unique tree which is severely limited to a 1.5 km² area.
The authors make a strong case for increasing funding opportunities and enhancing a greater conservation ethic on a global scale. “Unfortunately, in Hawai‘i alone there are 424 federally threatened and endangered plant taxa with very few research biologists and limited funding available to adequately monitor and protect them,” explained the paper’s co-author Ken Wood, a research biologist at the National Tropical Botanical Garden. “We are hoping for a renaissance in the natural sciences whereby society values the perpetuation of species diversity with as much enthusiasm as perhaps sports or entertainment,” said Wood.