Botany Researcher Heidi Meudt is on a mission to find and make new research collections of all native New Zealand forget-me-nots. It can be a challenge to find some of them, particularly if we don’t know a lot about them or where they are to be found.
Field trips are unique opportunities to not only collect specimens, but also compile the necessary data to help update a species’ conservation status.
During summer field work in 2018–19 and 2019–20, we chose specific localities where we thought we might find three of the six forget-me-not (Myosotis) species listed as Data Deficient.
We were thrilled to successfully find new or existing populations of these beautiful rare plants. Let’s meet them now!
A new species lurking in Fiordland?
Fiordland National Park is home to native plants and animals, some of which are only found there (PDF 7.5MB). So could there be a new forget-me-not to add to that list?
In February 2020 I finally saw plants of what is informally called Myosotis sp. “Fiordland” in their native habitat. And this was at a new, not previously known locality. I had seen a handful of specimens of this potential new species in the herbarium, including this one:
Fortunately, Brian Rance, who collected the specimen above, was able to join us on this part of our field trip. He and I spent quite a bit of time at this very steep site, surveying the population size and making our collections.
I am now studying these Fiordland specimens and comparing them to others to determine if they should be formally described as a new species.
Hiding in the high alpine
Probably the main reason Myosotis suavis is listed as Data Deficient is because it inhabits high alpine habitats that are difficult to get to. (Unless, of course, you are an experienced mountaineer, or have access to a helicopter.)
We were able to visit several locations (with the help of helicopters) where Myosotis suavis had been collected decades before. And we confirmed its presence at three different sites – that’s a big deal for a Data Deficient species!
Our new collections and data will allow us to better assess the conservation status of Myosotis suavis.
Following the botanical clues
After seeing photos of some intriguing forget-me-nots on iNaturalist.org, I reached out to the photographer. The site where the plants were found is on a QE-II Covenant on private land in Otago.
Many emails later, we found ourselves on a joint trip to collect specimens and identify what species it was. Forget-me-not identification can be tricky from a photo alone, and is much easier to do with a specimen and a microscope.
Our survey found these plants in wet, subalpine stream banks and on rocks, confirming the habitat where the species was last seen in 2007 (SP089801).
Because I had never seen this species in the field before, it took some time to work out what it was based on observing its leaf, habit and flower characteristics with a hand lens. Once I was certain it was M. glabrescens, we all got really excited. We hope our photos of this Data Deficient species and its habitat will assist other botanists and citizen scientists to find additional populations.
What does ‘Data Deficient’ mean?
The Department of Conservation reviews the conservation status of New Zealand organisms based on the New Zealand Threat Classification System (PDF 479KB).
The most recent conservation status list for plants (available here PDF 8MB) shows that of the 60 species of forget-me-nots (Myosotis), only 8 are considered Not Threatened!
The remaining 86% are Threatened (23), At Risk (21), Data Deficient (6), or, sadly, thought to be Extinct (2). This means forget-me-nots are a high priority for taxonomic research.
For some species, we do not have enough information or data about them to be able to assign them to one of the main conservation categories. When this happens, the species is considered to be Data Deficient. Field work is required to find the plants and collect new data about their population numbers, size, and change over time.
Many thanks to the Department of Conservation for their support of this research. Also thanks to Brian Rance and many other colleagues and landowners who came along on these trips or allowed access. In particular, I acknowledge Cara-Lisa Schloots, Russell Hamilton, Rob Wardle (QEII National Trust) and Soho Property Ltd. for access to the M. glabrescens site.