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New Coffee Tree Species Discovered Just Two Years Ago Already Endangered, Researchers Say

Oct 19, 2015 04:25 PM EDT
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Sommera cusucoana
A new coffee tree species, adorned with cherry-like fruits and cream-colored flowers, was discovered in Cusuco National Park. As a result of extensive logging in the area, these plants are considered to be critically endangered.
(Photo : A. C. Dietzsch)

During a 2013 expedition in the Cusuco National Park, researchers from Operation Wallacea came across a unique-looking plant. After careful analysis, they determined the plant, Sommera cusocoanarepresented a new relative of the Coffee family (Rubiaceae). Now – just two years later – researchers have determined this new coffee species must be declared "critically endangered." 

Sommera cusocoana is adorned with cherry-like fruits and cream-colored flowers that grows in the rugged terrain and steep forests of north-western Honduras. At maturity, it stands roughly 10 meters tall, researchers explained in a news release.

Daniel Kelly and Anke Dietzsch, professors from Trinity College and University of Dublin, Ireland, originally spotted the plant hidden in the forest bush. At the time, they were members of Operation Wallacea, which is a network of European and North American universities that study biodiversity and conservation management. After analyzing populations of this plant, they have concluded that human activities are significantly threatening its survival. 

"Sadly, there has been extensive logging in the vicinity in recent years, and we fear for the future of our new species. According to the criteria of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), it must be regarded as Critically Endangered," Kelly and Dietzsch explained. "We hope that the publication of this and other discoveries will help to galvanize support for the conservation of this unique and beautiful park and its denizens."

Discoveries such as this suggest that there is still many more unique plant and animal species to be found among the tropical forests. Other endemic species found during Operation Wallacea expeditions include the Hondurodendron tree and the herbaceous plant Calathea carolineae.

The findings were recently published in the journal PhytoKeys.

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