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Taxonomic Characterization and Conservation Assessment of Ephedra in India

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Anzar Ahmad Khuroo
added 2 research items
Historically, and even today, discovery of new species has remained one of the primary research activities driving the discipline of taxonomy. Discovering scientifically still unknown biodiversity is critical in addressing the taxonomic impediment which is hampering our progrees to meet the challenges of global biodiversity crisis. However, in the rush to accelerate the rate of new species’ discoveries, it is crucial to follow objective, stable and reproducible taxonomic criteria. Otherwise, new species’ discoveries based solely on subjective, unstable and non-reproducible characters can be cause of artificial taxonomic inflation in biodiversity data with wider implications on conservation policy and practice. In this study, by integrating empirical evidences from multiple sources, we critically evaluate the validity of two recently described new species of Ephedra in India (E. sumlingensis and E. khurikensis) to underscore that all ‘new’ species are not always new. Use of morphologically plastic characters in diagnosis, descrepancies in the protologues and inconsistencies with the freshly collected live specimens from the type localities clearly revealed that both these species unambiguosly fall within the circumscription of already known E. intermedia. With further support from robust analyses of morphometric amd molecular data, we recognise both the species as new synonyms of E. intermedia. Based on the lessons learnt from this study, we provide suggestions to be practised by the taxonomists to avoid such pitfalls in biodiversity data due to arbitrary new species’ discoveries.
Historically, and even today, discovery of new species has remained one of the primary research activities driving the discipline of taxonomy. Discovering scientifically still unknown biodiversity is critical in addressing the taxonomic impediment which is hampering our progrees to meet the challenges of global biodiversity crisis. However, in the rush to accelerate the rate of new species’ discoveries, it is crucial to follow objective, stable and reproducible taxonomic criteria. Otherwise, new species’ discoveries based solely on subjective, unstable and non-reproducible characters can be cause of artificial taxonomic inflation in biodiversity data with wider implications on conservation policy and practice. In this study, by integrating empirical evidences from multiple sources, we critically evaluate the validity of two recently described new species of Ephedra in India (E. sumlingensis and E. khurikensis) to underscore that all ‘new’ species are not always new. Use of morphologically plastic characters in diagnosis, descrepancies in the protologues and inconsistencies with the freshly collected live specimens from the type localities clearly revealed that both these species unambiguosly fall within the circumscription of already known E. intermedia. With further support from robust analyses of morphometric amd molecular data, we recognise both the species as new synonyms of E. intermedia. Based on the lessons learnt from this study, we provide suggestions to be practised by the taxonomists to avoid such pitfalls in biodiversity data due to arbitrary new species’ discoveries.
Anzar Ahmad Khuroo
added a research item
Ephedra pangiensis Rita Singh & P. Sharma is recognized here as a new synonym of E. intermedia Schrenk & C.A. Mey. as both found conspecific. A detailed description of E. intermedia with additional taxonomic characters, photographs, illustrations and distribution map are provided. Morpho-anatomical comparison of E. intermedia with its congeneric taxa occurring in India is also provided for an ease of identification.
Zubair Ahmad Rather
added a research item
The descriptions of dubious new species that lack robust taxonomic rigor create more confusion rather than bridging the Linnean shortfall in biodiversity. In an era of biodiversity crisis, it becomes urgent to undertake integrative taxonomic revisions to resolve taxonomic confusions in several plant taxa, even if that leads to drastic decline in the species number. Here I resolve the taxonomic conundrum of Ephedra in India by adopting an integrative taxonomic approach and using comprehensive set of characters from multiple lines of evidence (morphology, anatomy, palynology, seed micromorphology and molecular data). I reduce the number of Ephedra species in India from the currently known 16 to only 4 well-defined species: E. foliata, E. gerardiana, E. intermedia and E. regeliana. I provide proper species delimitations, detailed descriptions, taxonomic keys, photoplates of diagnostic characters, regional distributions and phylogenetic relationships of Ephedra in India, validated by robust empirical evidence. Our studies reveal that the previously reported three species: E. nebrodensis, E. pachyclada and E. przewalskii do not occur in India. The recently described four species (E. sumlingensis, E. pangiensis, E. khurikensis and E. yangthangensis) are synonymized with E. intermedia, and another E. kardangensis synonymized with E. gerardiana. Five recent designations viz. E. sheyensis, E. yurtungensis, E. yurtungensis var. lutea, E. lamayuruensis and E. khardongensis are recognized as nomen nodums due to lack of descriptions, diagnosis and type specimens. Our study provides a robust and reliable set of 16 morphological characters, validated by significant statistical support, which can prove useful for species delimitation in Ephedra. I also recorded few novel characters of evolutionary significance in Ephedra, which merit further investigation in future. Looking ahead, I believe that the methodological and data analytical learnings from this study can guide the future research direction in designing integrative taxonomic studies on such complex plant taxa elsewhere in the world.
Zubair Ahmad Rather
added 2 research items
Aspicera hartigi Dalla Torre, 1889 is reported for the first time from India. A brief diagnosis and photo- graphic illustrations of the species are provided to validate this new faunal record for India from the Kashmir valley in Western Himalaya. In addition, the present study for the first time reports the feeding of Aspicera hartigi on the pollination drop of the female cones in Ephedra plants, which provides novel insights about its foraging behavior and hint toward its role as pollination drop robber.
Images and videos of organisms recorded in the wild have relevance for biodiversity studies. With the advent of smartphones and their potential integration with microscopy, scientific documentation and recording of organisms has surged to an unprecedented scale. Here we report a novel method, developed by integration of a portable smartphone with a handheld field microscope that we term Smartphone-integrated Field Microscopy (SPFM), to capture images and videos which can be highly useful in field-based biodiversity studies. We firstly describe the design of the method and equipment used, followed by successful field demonstration of the method using a case study of the gymnosperm Ephedra intermedia Schrenk & C. A. Meyer in the Kashmir Himalaya. We then discuss the novelty of our method and its potential applications in biodiversity studies.
Anzar Ahmad Khuroo
added a research item
Arid environments face extreme risk from contemporary climate change, therefore predicting the shifts in species’ distribution range and niche breadth in these environments assumes urgent research priority. Here we report the potential distribution and predict future distribution range of two model plant species typically representing contrasting environments across Asia and Africa: hot-arid Ephedra foliata and cold-arid E. gerardiana. We adopted a comparative modelling approach and used occurrence points from extensive field surveys, supplemented with herbaria records and publicly available distribution data. Our study reveals that currently an area of 8797334 km2 (8.8%) is potentially suitable for E. foliata and nearly half 4759326 km2 (4.8%) for E. gerardiana. Under future projected climate scenarios, distribution range of E. foliata is predicted to expand but contract in E. gerardiana. Similarly, E. foliata showed broader niche breadth which is predicted to increase under B1 (0.097-0.125) and B2 (0.878-0.930) climatic scenarios. In contrast, E. gerardiana had narrower niche breadth and expected to further decrease under B1 (0.081-0.078) and B2 (0.878-0.854). The most influential bioclimatic variable governing the potential distribution and niche breadth of E. foliata was the precipitation of warmest quarter, whereas that of E. gerardiana was temperature seasonality. The results from our study can help in developing potential indicator plant species for assessment and monitoring of range shifts in response to changing climate in the arid environments.
Zubair Ahmad Rather
added 2 research items
Studies were undertaken to explore the diversity of pollinators from agro ecosystems of Kashmir Himalaya comprising the Apple orchards at different altitudes from 1300 m MSL in district Baramulla to 2350 m MSL in district Shopian. Field experiments were conducted on 51 commercial fruit orchards at in three main apple producing districts viz. Baramulla, Pulwama and Shopian. A total of 970 Specimens were collected during the bloom period of Apple (March-April) in the year 2012-2013 belonging to two main insect orders Hymenoptera and Diptera. The calculated values of all diversity indices showed that the lowest diversity among hymenopterans was found in district Baramulla while as the highest diversity was found in district Shopian in orchards located in the karewas. Among Dipterans the lowest again was found in district Baramulla and the highest diversity was found in district Shopian. Among the hymenopterans Lasioglossum nursei dominated the scene with highest diversity in all the three districts. Among dipterans particularly in the family Syrphidae the highest diversity in district Pulwama was that of Metasyrphus bucculatus, in district Shopian that of Eristalis tenax and in district Baramulla that of Episyrphus balteatus. The undisturbed surroundings in orchards offered a good refuge to native pollinators compared to those orchards with clean cultivation. A total of 64 species of flowering plants were identified that act as a source of pollen and nectar during and the after bloom period of Apple.