IUCN - Rediscovery of "extinct" species on Mauritius spurs joint action to secure its future

Rediscovery of "extinct" species on Mauritius spurs joint action to secure its future

21 June 2001 | News story

Gland, Switzerland (IUCN) 21.06.01. The rediscovery of a Mauritian plant last seen in the wild in 1863 has spurred collaborative efforts on the island to help save the species.

Trochetia parviflora, a small, attractive tree found only on Mauritius, was recently rediscovered by Vincent Florens and his colleague Jean-Claude Sevathian during their third expedition to find the species. Vincent is a member of the Indian Ocean Island Plant Specialist Group, of IUCN's Species Survival Commission. The pair found one plant clinging to a rocky slope in the Corps de Garde Mountain Nature Reserve, some 6km from the nearest area in which it was previously known.

"We could not believe we had found the species, it seemed too good to be true", said Vincent. "We both knew the plant very well from old herbarium samples and knew what it was immediately. The plant is exquisite with its curvy trunk, dense branches, small pointed leaves and pale green fruits, and has survived for centuries in the harsh conditions of the cliff edge."

Since the initial rediscovery, Vincent and Jean-Claude have intensified their search on the mountain and have now found 63 plants. Although thrilled by the find, Vincent is concerned for the continued survival of the species. "All the plants are in a precarious situation, within a 500m stretch of mountain slope which is vulnerable to landslides and fire that could destroy the population", he said.

The genus Trochetia is well known in Mauritius as Trochetia boutoniana is the country's national flower, known locally as Boucle d'Oreille (French for ear-ring). The flora of Mauritius is one of the most endangered in the world with nearly 300 threatened species -approximately 28% of the island's estimated 1,100 native species. The main threat is invasive introduced plant species that have taken over almost all the island's natural habitats, and are choking the small area inhabited by T. parviflora. Introduced rats and monkeys eat the tree's fruit, and the plants are attacked by termites. Vincent and Jean-Claude have taken cuttings from the trees and collected seeds to try to propagate the species to help boost the wild population.

Efforts to secure the species have been boosted by a $2,500 grant from the Chicago Zoological Society applied for by the Indian Ocean Island Plant Specialist Group. Work to protect the wild population and propagate new plants will involve the Mauritius Herbarium Arboretum, part of the Mauritius Sugar Industry Research Institute, Forestry Service nurseries, and other nurseries of the National Parks and Conservation Service.

Surveys by Vincent, his sister Danielle Florens, who is also a member of the Specialist Group, and Jean-Claude have increased the known number of native species on Corps de Garde by 20%. All three work for the Mauritius Herbarium. Vincent and Jean-Claude have dedicated the rediscovery to their friend, Adrien Wiehe, a local priest who has a keen interest in Mauritian botany. Now in his 70s, it has been his lifetime dream to rediscover this plant, and only four days before the event, he was looking for rare plants on the same mountain.

"Now that this almost mythical species has been rediscovered maybe we can hope that one day, people could find other 'extinct' species clinging to life in other remote areas", Vincent added.

For more information contact:
Vincent Florens Tel: +230 454 1061 or +230 686 2357 vflorens@msiri.intnet.mu
Jean-Claude Sevathian Tel: +230 454 1061 or +230 466 7780
Anna Knee Tel: +41 22 9990153 alk@iucn.org