There’s more to Facebook than just posting selfies – it’s also an important forum for scientific discoveries. The second largest carnivorous plant in the Americas has just become the first plant to be discovered through the social media site.
The new plant species has been called Drosera magnifica (“magnificent sundew”). It was found on a single mountain top in eastern Minas Gerais in Brazil. The plant was discovered after amateur botanist Reginaldo Vasconcelos posted the photo on Facebook in 2013 while exploring the mountains near his hometown. Plant expert Paulo Gonella came across the Facebook photo a year later. Vasconcelos went back to the mountain with Gonella to further investigate. Alongside his co-authors Fernando Rivadavia and Andreas Fleischmann, Gonella was able to confirm the carnivorous plant was a new sundew species.
“I was really surprised when I first saw the picture posted on Facebook by Reginaldo Vasconcelos featuring this amazing new species. I was especially surprised, not only because it seemed to be a completely new species, but it was a gigantic plant,” Gonella tells IFLScience.
Sundews are the largest group of carnivorous plants, currently consisting of approximately 250 species. Researchers describe the “new species for science” in the journal Phytotaxa. The plant can grow up to one and a half meters in length.
Its thin, sticky leaves are covered with carnivorous glands that are visually attractive to small arthropods, like small flying insects, but are also deadly. In most Drosera species, the prey is suffocated and the glands secrete enzymes to slowly digest it.
Researchers were surprised that the plant had yet to be discovered as the mountain on which it was found is accessible. Researchers say that this is an example of the great breadth of biodiversity in Brazil, and how little we actually know about it. “It makes you think: what is still out there, expecting to be discovered?” Gonella says
They note that Facebook has previously played a significant role in helping researchers to become aware of the different areas in which plants grow as botanical enthusiasts share images and information from across the globe. This new discovery through Facebook may suggest that social media can be further utilized to bring amateurs and professionals together to make discoveries, according to the researchers.
“The discovery of Drosera is not an isolated event. I already got many replies from colleagues that also have spotted potential new species in photos posted on Facebook, Flickr and discussion forums and are now preparing official descriptions. Social media has become an important tool as they approximate botanists and plant enthusiasts in their common interest in plant diversity,” he added.
The plant is already categorized as critically endangered with the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Gonella says the first step to preserving our biodiversity is to know it, and the discovery of Drosera magnifica will strengthen this movement.
“The conservation of this region is crucial, as it hosts unique and still poorly known flora and fauna that are severely threatened by human interference and invasive plant species. We are aware of a movement of local citizens that are fighting to turn this region into a State Park and we are actively helping them to make this come true,” Gonella says.