I’m just back from three weeks collecting ferns in New Caledonia.
For a place so close to New Zealand (shorter flight time than to Australia), I knew very little about New Caledonia. I expect that is true for many New Zealanders, and it presumably reflects our very different cultures, not least being the language difference (French predominates in New Caledonia, and English* in New Zealand).
New Caledonia is not an independent country but a special collectivity of France. Nouméa, its largest city, is like a piece of France transplanted to the tropical Pacific. The original Melanesian character is perhaps most strongly retained in the (north-)east.
Funded principally by a grant from the USA’s National Science Foundation, our collecting expedition was led by Matt von Konrat (Field Museum), Blanka Shaw (Duke University), and Louis Thouvenot, who was our guide and translator (none of the others in the expedition had been to New Caledonia before or spoke French, although Juan’s Spanish was useful on many occasions). The main goal was to collect Frullania liverworts, but we variously collected mosses, liverworts, and lichens – these are all small plants that are often neglected. I was invited along to collect ferns.
New Caledonia is home to about 270 ferns and lycophytes. That’s more than New Zealand, despite a land area less than 10%. About 35% of New Caledonia’s ferns and lycophytes are endemic (i.e., only found there), which is very high for a tropical Pacific island. However, the last comprehensive account is from 1969, and it is clear that much revision is needed. A reflection of this is that there are (at least) two species of new tree fern needing scientific description. During the three week expedition, I made 232 collections, of at least 160 different species. These include new species, new records for New Caledonia, and rediscoveries (species not recorded for a long time).
Te Papa’s updated checklist of Fiji’s ferns, which I hope to replicate for New Caledonia.
In coming days I’ll post about some of the plants I saw, particularly, of course, the ferns.
The expedition couldn’t have been the success it was without the assistance of many, especially Louis Thouvenot, as well as the Nouméa herbarium, the government land managers, the Kanak land owners and guides, and our contacts at Dayu Biik, Conservation International, and Société Calédonienne d’Ornithologie.
* I can note that the so-called ‘English’ speech of the two (monolingual) New Zealanders was constantly belittled by the other members (all multilingual) of the expedition, none of whom spoke English as a first language. Matt and I weren’t sure what to make of this.