Another Rafflesia species described in the Philippines
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
The Philippines’ biological diversity continues to draw the attention of the global conservation community with several species of flora and fauna being discovered one after the other very recently. An important scientific development was the discovery of another species of Rafflesia that is so far known to occur only in this country. The species was discovered in the Balbalasang-Balbalan National Park in Kalinga Province in the highland of Luzon. It is named Rafflesia banaoana (Rafflesiaceae), in honor with the Banao Tribe that does forest protection in the area where the species was found.
Pastor Malabrigo Jr. of the Department of Forest Biological Sciences in College of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of the Philippines in Los Banos, discovered the species during a Rapid Site Assessment in BBNP commissioned by the Foundation of the Philippine Environment to the Resources, Environment and Economics Center for Studies. Malabrigo was one of the members of the RSA team that conducted profiling for the physical and geo-political characteristics, biological resources, socio-cultural and economic conditions and governance and institutional arrangements of the BBNP of which yours truly was the team leader.
Rafflesia banaoana is the 10th Rafflesia species identified in the Philippines and the 3rd species described during the past three years
in Luzon. All Rafflesia species in the country are endemics. There are 27 recognized Rafflesia species exclusively found in the forests of Southeast Asia, particularly in Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra, Java, Borneo and Philippines, Malabrigo claimed in his paper describing the Rafflesia banaoana published in the recent issue of the Asia Life Sciences of the Asian International Journal of Life Sciences. Malabrigo said Rafflesia banaoana is comparable to other Philippines species, specifically the Rafflesia mira and the Rafflesia speciosa, the latter was discovered in Sibalom, Antique and was also recorded in the buffer zone of the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park where the Energy Development Corporation is currently developing a geothermal plant.
Malabrigo also recorded the first ever reported Rafflesia in Negros Island. However, this newly described species differs in size, number, structure and arrangements of processes on the disk compared to other Rafflesia, he added. Rafflesia species are known as obligate parasites since they are completely dependent on host plans for their water and nutrients because they do not have leaves, chlorophyll, stems and roots.
The species named is derived from the Banao Tribe who, through the years, had maintained traditional forest management practices in Kalinga province. The Banao Tribe is responsible in keeping the forests in the BBNP intact. Recent survey showed that 85 percent of the BBNP’s land area is still thickly covered with lush old growth forest.
Rafflesia banaoana was found in the slightly disturbed upper mountain rainforest of BBNP, at an elevation of about 1,361 meters above sea level. This is the highest elevation thus far for any Rafflesia population in the Philippines. All individuals of this species observed in the type of locality were found parasitic on underground roots and stems of the host plant, but never blooming on the aerial portion of the liana. Flower blooms probably start from the latter part of February to May, Malabrigo added.
The discovery of Rafflesia banaoana boosts further the biodiversity importance of the Philippines. The scientific community recognizes our country as one of the mega-biodiversity countries of the world because of a good number of endemic species found in the Philippines and nowhere else. Unfortunately, the Philippines is also known as a biodiversity hotspot because most of its endemic species are already threatened to extinction in the wild.* (This article was also published in the May 31 2010 issue of the Visayan Daily Star in Bacolod City, Philippines)
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