Expedition unearths new plants

Decade-long study in Camaroon rainforest uncovers 50 new varieties of plant and fungi

A decade-long study of rainforests in Cameroon has discovered 50 new varieties of plants and fungi. Dr Martin Cheek of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew led the research, aided by 300 volunteers from environmental charity Earthwatch and local experts. The project catalogues specimens in the country’s remote highland forests and seeks to help the area’s conservation, ensuring rare species survive. The results are to be published by Kew. Cheek said: “It has been incredibly exciting to be able to publish such a wealth of data on plants and fungi new to science. The Earthwatch volunteers gathered the vast amounts of material needed to identify what needs protecting.” The new plants range from tiny mountain pipeworts to rainforest canopy trees. Some of the discoveries could have a big economic future, with three species of coffee and an Impatiens among them. But Cheek warned that the area’s unique biodiversity is under threat from deforestation. “Many more species remain undiscovered in western Cameroon and may face extinction before we have even found them.” Illegal loggers pose the biggest problem, along with demand for new homes and farmland. The project is set to continue into 2005 and will only end once Cheek feels the work is complete. Earthwatch head of research Roger Mitchell is confident the project will leave an important legacy in Cameroon: “The information gathered informs decision-making at national level in Cameroon, increases conservation awareness in communities and trains local staff in plant conservation.”

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