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Saturday, August 16, 2008

New water lily species called proof of evolution

A new species of water lily discovered this year helps prove the theory of evolution, a Manitoba scientist says.

"This species isn't just new to Manitoba, it is a new species of plant that has evolved fairly recently," said Diana Robson, the Manitoba Museum's curator of botany. "Evolution isn't just something that occurred in the past; it's happening right now."

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"New species evolve when individuals obtain new genetic material that makes them well adapted to new habitats. Mutation is one way that organisms obtain new genetic information, and hybridization is another."

The new species is a hybrid. It arose when two fairly common species of water lily, Leiberg's Water-lily (Nymphaea leibergii) and Fragrant Water-lily (Nymphaea odorata) interbred.

Although plant hybrids form regularly, they are usually sterile and unable to reproduce.

It is the only documented population of this type of new water lily in Manitoba, Robson said, and is a fertile hybrid that is reproducing. So it's considered to be a brand-new species.

It's also quite rare. There are fewer than 500 of them in existence, Robson said, and they should probably be protected.

Robson was alerted to the possibility a new plant species existed in northern Manitoba by John Wiersema, a biologist and water-lily expert with the United States Department of Agriculture. In an old collection, Wiersema found documented a strange specimen of water lily that was collected in Manitoba 60 years ago.

Intrigued by its unusual characteristics, Wiersema and another colleague visited the Minago River about 100 kilometres north of Lake Winnipeg in 1996 and 2000 to find the plant, with no luck.

This year, after a two-hour plane trip and a one-hour boat ride on the same river with local guides, Wiersema and Robson found the rare new lily.

The new species appears to have evolved within the last 2,000 years, she said, and is unusual for Canada.

"Part of what was exciting about this was that the flora in Canada is quite well-known. Most scientists don't really expect to find a new species of plant anymore," Robson said.

Original here

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