Finding ‘Data Deficient’ forget-me-nots

Finding ‘Data Deficient’ forget-me-nots

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?

Rocky mountain ranges with a cloudy blue sky and mossy stone in the foreground
View of the surrounding area near the Myosotis collecting site in Fiordland National Park, Feb 2020. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa

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?

Plants with white flowers on a wet forest floor
We finally found it! Myosotis sp. “Fiordland” (SP108834), Feb 2020. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa

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:

Pressed leaves and stems with notes and a plastic bag on a beige piece of card
Te Papa specimen of Myosotis sp. “Fiordland” collected by Brian Rance (Department of Conservation) in 2017, Doubtful Sound, Fiordland, New Zealand. Donation 2017-2018. (CC BY 4.0). Te Papa (SP106549)

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.

Man climbing rocks with moss on them
Surveying this population of Myosotis sp. “Fiordland” (SP108834) is Brian Rance, Department of Conservation, Feb 2020. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa

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

White flowers on green foliage on grey rock.
A beautiful plant of Myosotis suavis (SP107452) in full flower in Westland National Park, Jan 2019. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa

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.)

High alpine habitat of Myosotis suavis (SP107452) in Westland National Park. There are probably dozens of plants in this photo! You can clearly see one with flowers in the bottom left corner. Jan 2019. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa.
High alpine habitat of Myosotis suavis (SP107452) in Westland National Park, Jan 2019. There are probably dozens of plants in this photo! You can clearly see one with flowers in the bottom left corner.  Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa

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.

A large plant growing out of a rock crevice in a rock
A large plant of Myosotis suavis (SP107483) growing out of a rock crevice in Mt Cook National Park, Jan 2019. You can see many brown seed heads among the green leaves.  Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa

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.

A wide grassy valley in the mountains with a small lake in the centre
View of the location where we found three species of forget-me-nots, including the Data Deficient Myosotis glabrescens, Feb 2020. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa

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.

grasses and mossy mats on rocks
Myosotis glabrescens forms large mats on rocks near a stream (SP108859), Feb 2020. Photo by Heidi Meudt, Te Papa

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).

A creek running through
The habitat of Myosotis glabrescens (SP108859). Feb 2020. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa

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.

Making a collection of Myosotis glabrescens (SP108859). Feb 2020. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa.
Making a collection of Myosotis glabrescens (SP108859), Feb 2020. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa

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.

Acknowledgments

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.

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