Spanish botanists found a new plant species in the La Mancha region in south-central Spain and decided to name it after Don Quixote, according to a study published in the scientific journal PhytoKeys.
We may think that researchers have identified all the animals and plants in well-known areas, but our knowledge is not as complete as we would like. There are still unidentified species waiting for us to find them.
This is what happened to a group of Spanish botanists from the Pablo de Olavide University in Seville. The authors described a new plant species belonging to the papyrus family (Cyperaceae) restricted to the La Mancha area. As this area is well-known as the home of Miguel Cervantes’ Don Quixote, the researchers decided to name the new plant after the fictional character.
The new species — Carex quixotiana — belongs to the genus Carex, a group of herbs in the papyrus family. This family is very diverse and widely distributed worldwide, and species are frequently difficult to tell apart. For this reason, C. quixotiana evaded detection for decades because it closely resembles other related species.
“Cryptic species are frequent in complex plant groups, such as sedges, and integrative studies encompassing different data sources (e.g., morphology, molecular phylogeny, chromosome number, ecological requirements) are needed to unravel systematic relationships and accurately describe biodiversity patterns,” said Dr. Martín-Bravo, senior author of the paper.
After a preliminary genetic analysis identified something odd about some plant specimens, the team decided to dig a little deeper to find out why. They set out to do an exhaustive collection of samples across La Mancha and studied the new plant in detail using morphology, phylogenetics, and chromosome number.
With this data, they confirmed they had found a new species. Carex quixotiana likes habitats with plenty of water, such as small streams, wet meadows, and riverside (riparian) forests. The authors are still trying to establish its conservation status, but so far, it all seems to indicate that it’s located only in the Iberian peninsula with a small number of populations and narrow distribution range. C quixotiana would likely benefit from legal protection and inclusion in conservation programmes.
“In the present biodiversity crisis scenario, it is critical that we do not neglect basic scientific disciplines like taxonomy since cataloguing biodiversity is a fundamental step towards its preservation and, thus, sustainable management,” said the researchers.
Benítez-Benítez C, Jiménez-Mejías P, Luceño M, Martín-Bravo S (2023) Carex quixotiana(Cyperaceae), a new Iberian endemic from Don Quixote’s land (La Mancha, S Spain). PhytoKeys 221: 161-186. https://doi.org/10.3897/phytokeys.221.99234