Monday, 26 August 2013

Out of Africa? New Bamboo Genera, Mountain Gorillas, and the Origins of China's Bamboos

Aug. 23, 2013 — African mountain bamboos are something of a mystery, as nearly all bamboos are found in Asia or South America. Hidden away up mountains in the tropics where they provide food for gorillas, just as China's bamboos provide food for the Giant Panda, there are apparently only 2 species, and they had not been examined in very great detail, except by the gorillas, see image.

It had been thought that they were very closely related to the hundreds of similar bamboos in Asia, but their respective ranges are separated by thousands of miles. As flowering in bamboos is such a rare event, spreading by seed takes a very long time, and the suspicion arose that they might be old enough to represent new genera, and possibly could even be remnants of the earliest temperate bamboos, which spread to Asia on drifting tectonic plates. A new study published in the open access journal PhytoKeys, studies the diversity and evolution of African bamboo.

Having studied bamboos in the Himalayas extensively, and edited the descriptions of all the bamboos of China for the Flora of China Project of Academia Sinica and Missouri Botanical Gardens, Dr Chris Stapleton turned his attention to the bamboos of Africa. He found that the features of the mountain bamboos were significantly different to those of Asia, and together with the large geographic separation, the differences were sufficient for the recognition of 2 new African genera, now namedBergbambos and Oldeania, after their local names in the Afrikaans and Maasai languages. The species are nowBergbambos tessellata and Oldeania alpina.

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