The wet evergreen rainforests of the Western Ghats of India have undergone serious fragmentation. While the loss of primary forest continues, scientists are beginning to realize they have underestimated the species diversity and evolutionary uniqueness of this ecosystem. Biologists have, for example, recently discovered several new species of amphibians and reptiles, some with unique evolutionary histories and novel breeding behaviours.
A new species in the genus Miliusa, an understorey tree of the Annonaceae (custard apple) family, was recently discovered during an expedition to Kudremukh peak in 2013, and subsequent expeditions in 2014. This new species has been named Miliusa malnadensis (Page & Nerlekar, 2016, Phytotaxa, 245, 79–83). It is restricted to montane evergreen forests at a narrow elevational zone of 1,200–1,500 m.
This tree species may have previously gone unnoticed because of its restricted distribution and sparse and sporadic flowering. It may also have been mistaken for its morphologically similar congener, Miliusa wightiana. The new discovery makes southern India the centre of diversity of this genus. There are also likely to be other tree species yet to be discovered and, like M. malnadensis, it will be difficult to assign an IUCN Red List status to such species without information on range or population size.
The publication of the discovery of this new species was made possible through the support of the Conservation Leadership Programme (www.conservationleadershipprogramme.org), which is currently supporting a project to carry out distribution and population status assessments of selected endemic trees of the Western Ghats. We hope that the discovery of M. malnadensis and other new species will help in some way to save this unique and diverse ecosystem.