Two new carnivorous plant species found sticking out of the ground in Ecuador already threatened by habitat loss

Botanists have discovered two new species of butterwort (genus Pinguicula), a type of carnivorous plant, in Ecuador. Only one species of butterwort was known in Ecuador before the new discoveries.

Butterworts are a group of flowering plants with about 115 known species. The plants catch and digest small insects with extremely sticky leaves.

Most species are found in the northern hemisphere, but the two newly described plants were found in the high Andes of southern Ecuador near the Peruvian border. This tropical region of the mountain range has a variety of challenging habitats including marshland and rocky slopes covered in constant rain and clouds.

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It’s exactly in such gruelling conditions that some plants have evolved to use animals (usually insects) as an additional source of nutrition. This helps overcome any deficiency that may exist in the substrate that they occupy.

Photograph of Pinguicula jimburensis sp. nov. Credit: Kabir Montesinos.

Pinguicula jimburensis was found on the shore of a highland lagoon at 3,400 metres above sea level.

The other new species, Pinguicula ombrophilia was discovered on a nearly vertical rock face at 2,900 metres. Its name means “rain-loving butterwort”, highlighting the plant’s preference for very wet conditions.

Both species were found within the Amotape-Huancabamba zone of the high Andes which has exceptional biodiversity because of its varied climate and many microhabitats.

“Both of these new species are only known from a single location, where only a few dozens of plant individuals occur in each case,” says Dr Tilo Henning of Leibniz Center for Agricultural Landscape Research in Germany.

One of the new butterworts is restricted to only one known population of just 15 mature individuals, making it vulnerable even if it is hidden in an isolated, difficult-to-access area.

“Relentless urban sprawl and the accompanying destruction of habitats pose a massive threat to biodiversity in general, and to the tightly-knit and specialised organisms that depend on their fragile microhabitats in particular,” Henning says.

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The two new species exist in protected areas and are relatively safe from direct destruction by humans.

However, Henning notes that human-induced climate change and its effect on ecosystems – even the most remote – does make the butterworts vulnerable. Habitats that rely on regular precipitation, such as mountain wetlands like the areas that the two new species were discovered, are especially susceptible.

The discoveries are detailed in a paper published in the journal PhytoKeys.

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