Errol Abada Gatumbato

Rafflesia speciosa found in another site of the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

The Mount Kanla-on Natural Park in Negros Island continues to manifest its high standard as one of the centers of plant diversity in the Philippines. In a recent development, a species of Rafflesia has been found thriving in another location within the MKNP. Errol Gillang, one of the MKNP staff, accidentally recorded a Rafflesia species, which looks identical to Rafflesia speciosa, in a barangay in La Castellana town in Negros Occidental. Botanist Pat Malabrigo of the University of the Philippines Los Baños has first recorded this species in the Bago side of the MKNP in 2008.

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This species was 1st recorded in the Bago City side of the MKNP in 2008. Errol Gillang photo*

Rafflesia speciosa was first known to science in 2002 when botanist Julie Barcelona, formerly connected with the National Museum of the Philippines, discovered it in Antique province. It is an endemic species and only known to occur in Negros and Panay Islands, thus far. Barcelona said it is expected that the species can be found in other parts of the MKNP because it is quite common in the area. Wildlife biologist Lisa Paguntalan of the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. also said her group will look into the presence of this Rafflesia in the site where it was lately found.

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Rafflesia speciosa was discovered in another location of the MKNP. Errol Gillang photo*

Rafflesia is a parasitic plant and it usually grows in the lowland to mountain forests. The different species of Rafflesia are found not only in the Philippines, but as well as in Thailand, Malaysia, Sumatra, Java, and Borneo. All of the Rafflesia species, numbering at least 10, in the country are endemic, which means they are entirely different from other countries. Unfortunately, most if not all of these species are already threatened, primarily due to habitat destruction.

This plant is somewhat “mysterious” because it has no leaves, stems, and roots, as it is entirely dependent to its host plants to grow and survive. Rafflesia’s host plants are species under the liana genus Tetrastigma Planch, according to the paper jointly published by Barcelona, Pieter Pelser, Danny Balete, and the late Leonard Co. In the same publication, the authors claimed the different species of Rafflesia live inside the roots and stems of their host plants and only their flowers are emerging, as they noted that flowers of some Rafflesia species are the largest of all flowering plants, reaching up to 1.5 meters in diameter. While Rafflesia species look so regal and beautiful, they emit a smell of rotten meat.

The number of Rafflesia species in the Philippines ballooned to 10 or 11 following the discovery of Rafflesia speciosa in 2002. Prior to it, only two species of Rafflesia were known to occur in the country – Rafflesia manillana and Rafflesia schadenbergiana, as presented in the publication entitled Taxonomy, Ecology and Conservation Status of Philippine Rafflesia of Barcelona, Pelser, Balete, and Co.

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Errol Gillang, one of the MKNP staff, recorded the Rafflesia speciosa in a barangay in La Castellana town in Negros Occidental*

The Rafflesia manillana was 1st recorded in Basey Samar in 1840s, and was recorded later on in some locations in Luzon. On the other hand, the Rafflesia schadenbergiana was 1st known to occur in a mountain near Mount Apo in Mindanao in 1882, and it took over a century when it was rediscovered in other parts of Mindanao, particularly in South Cotabato and Bukidnon provinces.

In addition to Rafflesia speciosa, some of the Rafflesia species that were recorded in recent years included Rafflesia baletei (Camarines Sur), Rafflesia Leonardi (Cagayan); Rafflesia lobata (Antique and Iloilo), and Rafflesia mira (Compostela Valley).

The recording of Rafflesia speciosa in another location of the MKNP is a good reminder of the need to conduct further field surveys and researches on the floral composition of the park. Only a limited survey has been conducted on the flora of the MKNP, and most likely there are more important species of plants, that are both biologically and economically important, awaiting discovery in this Key Biodiversity Area of Negros Island.

There might be other endemic species that can be found in the MKNP, given that several of its sites, especially in higher elevations, like Hardin sang Balo, Margaha Valley, and RAMS Lagoon, among others, have the presence of a variety of plants, many of which with colorful and lovely flowers. In fact, the MKNP management plan listed Isachne volcanica, a kind of grass found below the crater of the Kanla-on Volcano, as endemic only in the area and could not be found elsewhere.

Having the opportunity in the past to explore various parts of the MKNP, I could say that the whole area is, indeed, a natural museum of unique species of flora and fauna found in different ecosystems. While it is true that a large part of the MKNP has already been converted into other purposes, such as agriculture and settlement, its remaining forests remain critical habitats of species that are already highly threatened of becoming extinct in the wild.

For instance, the Birdlife International suspects that the Negros fruit dove (Ptilinopus arcanus) is already a lost species, because it has never been recorded again since its discovery in the MKNP in 1953. No any report of such tiny bird has existed or still exists anywhere else. The IUCN–World Conservation Union recommends the conduct of further surveys on the Negros Fruit dove in MKNP and some other remaining forest patches in Negros and Panay to ascertain if this species remains extant.

It is, therefore, of urgent concern to protect the remaining habitats and restore denuded areas of the MKNP for the Rafflesia and other species to continue thriving so that future generations will have the opportunity to still see them in the wild. In addition, these critical habitats in the MKNP are also crucial ecosystems that provide ecological services to both provinces of Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental.

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May 15, 2017 - Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Forest Ecosystem, Mt. Kanla-on, Protected Areas, Species Conservation, Wildlife Species | , , , , ,

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