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Free Content Copper endemism in the Congolese flora: a database of copper affinity and conservational value of cuprophytes

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Background and aims – The occurrence of natural plant communities on Cu-enriched substrates over significant areas of the earth's surface is exceptional. In Katanga (D.R.Congo), natural outcrops of copper-rich rocks are colonised by highly original plant communities. A number of plant species have been proposed as possibly endemic to those sites. Here we revise the taxonomic, phytogeographic and conservational status of these plants.

Methods – Almost all the herbarium materials of supposed Cu-endemics available in BR and BRLU have been revised and all relevant taxonomic revisions have been consulted. Literature and herbarium data have been supplemented by original observations in the field. Conservational status was established using IUCN criteria based on current and projected variation of population size and number.

Key results – Thirty-two taxa are identified as strict endemics of Cu-rich soil in Katanga, i.e. absolute metallophytes. Twenty-four of these are known from one to five localities only. Twenty-three other taxa are identified as broad endemics, i.e. with > 75% of occurrence on Cu-rich soil. Fifty-seven other names formerly used for supposed endemics are rejected either for nomenclatural or phytogeographic reasons. A number of species formerly regarded as endemics have been discovered off copper-enriched substrates due to progress in the botanical exploration of Katanga. The taxonomic value of a number of proposed endemics is still uncertain and requires further research. For a number of taxa, local geographic distribution still remains insufficiently known. The low proportion of endemics (c. 5%) in the flora of Cu-rich soil in Katanga possibly indicates a recent origin of much of this flora. Arguments in favour of neoendemism and relictual endemism, respectively, are discussed briefly. Ten percent of strict endemics are extinct and 65% are critically endangered, due to actual or projected habitat destruction by copper mining. Endemics restricted to primary habitats may be the most difficult to conserve. Several species, mostly annuals, are able to thrive on secondary metalliferous habitats created by the mining industry and may thus be at lower risk.

Conclusions – This review emphasizes the high conservation value of the flora of Cu-rich soil in Katanga and should help prioritise future conservation efforts.

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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2010

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