Discovery of new populations of the Vulnerable plant Neopicrorhiza scrophulariiflora in Yunnan, China

Neopicrorhiza scrophulariiflora (Pennell) D. Y. Hong, a perennial herb of the monotypic genus Neopicrorhiza in the family Scrophulariaceae, occurs in Bhutan, Nepal, north-east India, and south-west China. It was first described as Picrorhiza scrophulariiflora by Francis Whittier Pennell in 1943 (Academy of natural sciences of Philadelphia Monographs, 5, 65). The species was recognized as a class II protected species in the National Key Protected Wild Plants List of China in 1999 and categorized as Vulnerable on the China Species Red List in 2004. In 2010 the species was identified as one of 62 plant species with extremely small populations in Yunnan, China. In 2001, based on the field knowledge of experts, N. scrophulariiflora was evaluated to occur in <5 localities in China, with an estimated population of <1,000 mature individuals.

To obtain up-to-date information on N. scrophulariiflora in China a total of six field surveys were carried out in the south-west during 20162018, with the joint support of the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 31570212, 31770228), the National Key Programme of the Ministry of Science and Technology (Grant No. 2017FY100100), and the Talent Project of Yunnan (Grant No. 2015HB092). Two flowering populations of N. scrophulariiflora were discovered in Hengduan Mountains in western Yunnan, growing on gravelly grassland at an altitude of 4,160 m. One population, in Gongshan County, has 469 individuals and another population, in Deqin County, has 437 individuals. The discovery of these new populations is promising news for the conservation of the species. However, our survey and information obtained from interviews with local people indicated that the main threats to these populations are anthropogenic use (the roots are used in traditional medicine) and road construction, and hence habitat loss. Effective measures are required to protect these new populations.

The Kunming Institute of Botany is now carrying out further studies on the population dynamics and genetic diversity of N. scrophulariiflora across the two populations, to improve management and protection of this species in China. With the collaboration of the staff of nature reserves, we are also planning to collect seeds of N. scrophulariiflora for propagation and future restoration of wild populations. using species distribution models we plan to identify and explore other sites in China where the species could potentially grow.



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                                                                                                                                                                        (Editor: YANG Mei)



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