New Guinea has the world’s richest island flora

Abstract

New Guinea is the world’s largest tropical island and has fascinated naturalists for centuries1,2. Home to some of the best-preserved ecosystems on the planet3 and to intact ecological gradients—from mangroves to tropical alpine grasslands—that are unmatched in the Asia-Pacific region4,5, it is a globally recognized centre of biological and cultural diversity6,7. So far, however, there has been no attempt to critically catalogue the entire vascular plant diversity of New Guinea. Here we present the first, to our knowledge, expert-verified checklist of the vascular plants of mainland New Guinea and surrounding islands. Our publicly available checklist includes 13,634 species (68% endemic), 1,742 genera and 264 families—suggesting that New Guinea is the most floristically diverse island in the world. Expert knowledge is essential for building checklists in the digital era: reliance on online taxonomic resources alone would have inflated species counts by 22%. Species discovery shows no sign of levelling off, and we discuss steps to accelerate botanical research in the ‘Last Unknown’8.

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Fig. 1: Floristic patterns in New Guinea.
Fig. 2: Representatives of species-rich genera with more than 80 species in New Guinea.
Fig. 3: Breakdown of the New Guinea flora by life form.
Fig. 4: Species described per decade in New Guinea.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available within the Article and in Supplementary Tables 14.

Code availability

The R code used for calculations and analyses is available from the corresponding author on request.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the collectors, herbarium and database curators and colleagues at our institutions for support and discussions; J. Bascompte for feedback on a previous draft; and I. Cámara Leret for the design of Fig. 3. R.C.-L. and P.C.v.W. received funding from the Royal Society International Exchanges (grant IE 170241, ‘Building the New Guinea Research Team’); A.S.B. acknowledges financial support from the Carlsberg Foundation and the Danish Research Council; L.-F.F. acknowledges the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant 31570307); G.H. acknowledges the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq) for a post-doctoral fellowship (process 153430/2018-4); S.K. was supported by the US National Science Foundation (grant DEB-1457366); Y.W.L is funded by the National Parks Board, Singapore under a postgraduate research scholarship; M.L. received funding from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (LE 1826/3-1) and Synthesys (GB-TAF-6305); P.H.A.M. acknowledges the São Paulo Research Foundation – FAPESP (grant 2015/13112-7 and 2018/09379-6); D.S.P. received funding from the US National Science Foundation (grant DEB-1754667); the contributions of G.D.W. to the project were supported by the US National Science Foundation (grants DEB-0515678, DEB-0816749 and DEB-0841885); and M.H. and H.P.W. received funding from the Edinburgh Botanic Garden (Sibbald) Trust and the M. L. MacIntyre Begonia Trust. The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is supported by the Scottish Government’s Rural and Environmental Science and Analytical Services Division.

Author information

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Authors

Contributions

R.C.-L. conceived the study, analysed the data and wrote a first draft of the paper. All authors verified taxonomic data and contributed to revisions.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Rodrigo Cámara-Leret.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Peer review information Nature thanks Timothy Baker, Lars Chatrou, Thomas Givnish, Vojtech Novotny and Hans ter Steege for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Fig. 1 Delimitation of the study area of New Guinea.

The study area (black islands) includes islands within a depth of −120 m of mainland New Guinea according to the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (http://www.gebco.net). Purple lines depict seafloor depth starting at −120 m.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Collection effort and discovery of the New Guinea flora through time.

The number of plant collections that have been digitized (green bars), the cumulative total number of collections (green dotted line) and the cumulative number of plant species (basionyms) described over time (black dotted line).

Extended Data Table 1 The 31 plant families in New Guinea that have more than 100 species, arranged in descending order of native species
Extended Data Table 2 The 20 most-diverse plant genera in New Guinea, arranged in descending order of native species
Extended Data Table 3 The 61 endemic genera to New Guinea, their number of species and availability of sequences in GenBank
Extended Data Table 4 Number of New Guinea specimens and unidentified specimens, and percentage of unidentified specimens, for larger vascular plant genera held at BISH, BRI, CANB, L, LAE and NSW

Supplementary information

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Table 1

Checklist of the Vascular Plants of New Guinea.

Supplementary Table 2

Synonyms of Vascular Plants in New Guinea.

Supplementary Table 3

State of knowledge and dates of coverage of vascular plants in New Guinea since 1905.

Supplementary Table 4

State of knowledge of larger (≥ 40 spp.) vascular plant genera in New Guinea.

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Cámara-Leret, R., Frodin, D.G., Adema, F. et al. New Guinea has the world’s richest island flora. Nature 584, 579–583 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-2549-5

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