New baobab species discovered
01 February 2013 | By Michael Smit
According to Emeritus Professor Jack D. Pettigrew’s scientific paper, the African baobab or Adansonia digitata, the iconic giants which dot the South African landscape, may have a sibling called Adansonia kilima.
Written along with Karen L. Bell, Adhil Bhagwandin, Eunice Grinan, Ngalla Jillani,
Jean Meyer, Emily Wabuyele and Claudia E. Vickers, the paper explains that six baobab species are endemic in Madagascar, but up until recently, only one species of baobab was endemic to South Africa.
According to the paper, ‘Examining variation in floral and pollen characters and chromosome number in specimens from Africa identified a new diploid
baobab species, Adansonia kilima, … which co-exists with A. digitata in Africa.’
The distribution of the well known African baobab is widespread throughout Africa and they usually grow at elevations below 800 m, but its new relative the Kilima baobab grows in restricted elevations(between 650-1500m).
This photo of an Adansonia kilima was taken in early January by Dr Sarah Venter. It is found on the R532 near the village of Tshirolwe about 10km east of the Wyliespoort tunnels.
A Kilima baobab was photographed near the Wyliespoort tunnels which pass through the towering Soutpansberg mountains on January 9 by Dr Sarah Venter, who completed her doctorate on the ecology of baobabs occurring in the Venda area.
According to Dr Venter, ‘In the Venda population of baobab trees the distinction between flower size and fruit size is not as clear as described by Pettigrew and therefore it may be very difficult to tell the difference between the two species in the Venda area.’
Venter also cautioned that the Kilima baobab is still a theory. ‘A species description is a theory and not a fact. After a new species has been described it needs to go through the rigors of scientific questioning and testing before is becomes established and accepted. It is a controversial finding, but as it is based on chromosome number and DNA sequencing the theory has more credibility.
'However, over the next few years,taxonomists and botanists, are very likely going to do further investigations into the matter before it is fully accepted by the scientific community.’
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