x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 18 October 2017

Eight new species of plant discovered in the UAE

Eight undocumented plant species were found growing in different parts of the UAE, adding to the idea that so much of the flora and fauna in this country is yet to be discovered.

Clockwise from top left: Amaranthus lividus, Cyperus eremicus, Kickxia elatine, and Diplotaxis erucoides. Courtesy: Dr Mohammed Shahid / ICBA
Clockwise from top left: Amaranthus lividus, Cyperus eremicus, Kickxia elatine, and Diplotaxis erucoides. Courtesy: Dr Mohammed Shahid / ICBA

Wildlife discoveries from the ancient mountain passes of Ras Al Khaimah to a puddle in a Dubai neighbourhood have allowed scientists to record eight new plant species in the past 18 months.

The species were found growing in different parts of the UAE, adding to speculation that much flora and fauna in this country has yet to be discovered.

Dr Mohammed Shahid, one of the publishers of the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture Report, was on a morning walk around his Dubai neighbourhood when he found one species.

“Where I live it’s just my habit to walk around,” Dr Shahid said. “As part of my profession, of course, I pay attention to the wild plants.”

Scientist and colleague N K Rao has documented 30 species.

To illustrate the growth in discoveries, the first scientifically recognised book on plant diversity recorded 501 species of plants in the UAE in 1989. In less than 30 years, that has hit 801.

Although the species have been recorded in other countries, the eight found by the biosaline agriculture centre represent about 1 per cent of recorded wild flora in the UAE.

In Abu Dhabi emirate, Bromus diandrus, Lolium multiflorum (Gramineae) and Diplotaxis erucoides (Cruciferae) were found by Dr Shahid and Mr Rao.

Alternanthera sessilis, Amaranthus lividus (Amaranthaceae) and Commelina benghalensis (Commelinaceae) were found in Dubai. Kickxia elatine (Scrophulariaceae) and Cyperus eremicus (Cyperaceae) were discovered Fujairah and RAK.

The UAE’s soil is quite low in nutrients. Researching plants that grow in the harsh environment sheds light on their survival techniques and the evolutionary paths of wildlife.

The species of fauna have been found elsewhere on the Arabian Peninsula but there is room to study their genetic makeup and see if there are differences.

“The species found here, their behaviour and characteristics might be different to other species in the Arabian Peninsula,” Dr Shahid said.

Kickxia elatine made the biggest stir as it was found thriving in an environment where it was not reported before.

“Kickxia was growing on the flooded bank of a stream. The species has not been reported in such habitat,” said the report.

“So much of the UAE is undiscovered, and without walking in the wild we would not find them. I’m pretty sure there are many more undocumented species,” said Dr Shahid.

nalwasmi@thenational.ae