Sphaeralcea bonariensis Malvaceae A newl

Phytotaxa 213 (2): 151–154
Copyright © 2015 Magnolia Press
ISSN 1179-3155 (print edition)
ISSN 1179-3163 (online edition)
Sphaeralcea bonariensis (Malvaceae): A newly recorded introduced species in the
flora of the United Arab Emirates
Sanjay Gairola1,Tamer Mahmoud1 & Ali El-Keblawy2,3
Sharjah Seed Bank and Herbarium, Sharjah Research Academy, Sharjah, UAE.
Department of Applied Biology, Faculty of Science and Sharjah Research Academy, University of Sharjah, Sharjah, UAE.
Permanent address: Department of Biology, Faculty of Education in Al-Arish, Suez Canal University, Egypt.
Corresponding author: [email protected]
This article reports the presence of the alien species Sphaeralcea bonariensis (Cav.) Griseb. for the first time in the United
Arab Emirates (UAE). Voucher specimens are deposited in the Her­barium of the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew and in the
herbarium of the Sharjah Seed Bank and Herbarium (SSBH) laboratory, UAE. This report emphasizes the importance of
monitoring and regular reporting of emerging threats of introduced species, to avoid any possible negative impacts on native
biodiversity in the future. The Arabian Gulf flora, including that of the UAE, has yet to be comprehensively investigated,
and the chance of introductions of exotic plants is high, due to the large proportion of agricultural materials being imported
from other countries.
Key words: Arabian Peninsula, Deserts, Sphaeralcea bonariensis, United Arab Emirates
Alien invasive species are considered a major threat to global biodiversity, due to the potential for modifying ecosystem
process and function (Vitousek t. 1997). At present, the number of introduced species is growing globally as a result
of increased trade and travel. Accidental introductions are the main source of invasive plants across the globe, and
it is perceived that the tendency for introduction of such species into the native flora becomes more prominent with
globalization and expansion of trade re­lations. Some proportion of such species may become invasive within a novel
ecosystem (Cronk & Fuller 2014). It is therefore essential to understand the mechanisms through which they might
pose major threats to native biodiversity. Monitoring of introduced species is crucial to understanding their dynamics
in new habitats, and to decision making for their control (Pyšek and Richardson 2010).
During the April 2012 floral surveys of SSBH in the Dhaid area of Sharjah Emirate, UAE, Sphaeralcea
bonariensis (Cav.) Griseb. was recorded for the first time in this country. S. bonariensis (family: Malvaceae) is a
perennial species native to South America. The species is reported from Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and northern
and central Argentina (http://florabonaerense.blogspot.ae). Comparisons of the morphological characteristics with
similar species in the UAE and other floras indicated that this species is a new record for the flora of the UAE. Plant
identification was also made by taxonomists at the Royal Botanic Gardens (RBG), Kew. Literature review revealed
that this species was hitherto not reported from the UAE (Jongbloed 2003; Karim and Fawzy 2007). Hence, we are
reporting S. bonariensis here as an addition to the Malvaceae of UAE. Voucher specimens are deposited in the RBG
Kew, and the Sharjah Seed Bank & Herbarium (SSBH), Sharjah, UAE.
During repeated field surveys, only a single individual of S. bonariensis was recorded from a locality beside
Dhaid Road (N: 25.01112 and E: 55.88496, Alt.: 185 m a.s.l.). The plant was recorded along this road and boundaries
of farms, which seems to be the typical habitat of this species as reported in South America (Ghersa et al. 2002). The
recorded plant was about 1.2 m tall (Figure 1). It carried a large number of flowers and flowering buds. The flower
colour is salmon-pink or pink-orange (Figure 2). Other plant species associated with S. bonariensis include Zaleya
pentandra, Portulaca oleracea, Setaria verticillata and Cenchrus ciliaris (Pennisetum ciliare).
It is believed that the introduction of S. bonariensis to the UAE was accidental, and may have been introduced via
imported agricultural products from South American or southern African countries where this species already occurs.
Despite our extensive literature review, the route of entry for S. bonarensis into the UAE is currently unclear. As trade
Accepted by Christopher Davis: 15 Apr. 2015; published: 15 Jun. 2015
routes across the Indian Ocean are much shorter, it is accordingly possible that S. bonarensis reached the UAE via
southern Africa, rather than directly from South America. The potential for the introduction of new species to the UAE,
like all other Arab Gulf countries, is high as they are importing most of their agricultural materials from abroad. The
agricultural lands of these countries are relatively infertile, and require considerable amounts of both organic composts
and fertilizers. Biomass production in Arab Gulf countries is very low, and they rely therefore mainly on imported
compost from other countries. In addition, the Arab Gulf countries import most of their crop and vegetable seeds, and
the chance of introduction of unwanted contaminant seed is high. Literature survey reveals that S. bonariensis has been
introduced and become naturalized in southern Africa, though there are no convincing reports of an invasive nature of
this species.
FIGURE 1. Sphaeralcea bonariensis from UAE.
152 • Phytotaxa 213 (2) © 2015 Magnolia Press
Gairola ET AL.
We presume the introduction of S. bonariensis to the UAE may have been very recent, although we did not find
any information in terms of time frame or route of dispersal of this species. In our field observations, this species was
not recorded in any other nearby sites. It is, however, possible that S. bonariensis grows at other sites in the UAE, for
which continuous surveys are underway. Despite the occurrence of a single plant of S. bonariensis in the UAE, its
introduction might pose a potential threat to the native flora. Further surveys for S. bonariensis and other non-native
species in the UAE are important. Additional records should therefore be sought elsewhere in the UAE, to assess
its rate of spread. The role of taxonomy and herbarium records becomes explicit in monitoring and management of
introduced species on regional scales. Herbarium records provide collection dates and geographical locations, which
can be used to estimate the arrival, establishment and spatial distribution of such species, and their invasion dynamics
(Crawford and Hoagland 2009). Furthermore, such information can be used as a baseline for comparing past and future
changes in the distribution of species in any region. SSBH is engaged in collecting plant specimens and recording
herbarium data for all plant species, which will also help in documenting the non-native flora of the UAE. We hope that
this article will serve to illustrate the importance of early detection of introduced species, in order to safeguard native
plant diversity. Concerned authorities may be advised to initiate steps to regularly survey any introduced species, and
to take steps to prevent their introduction.
FIGURE 2. Flower of S. bonariensis.
We thank the Sharjah Research Academy for encouragement and facilities. Dr Bailey E. Hatab is thanked for his
help in plant collection. Our sincere thank goes to Joanna Osborne of the Kew Herbarium for identification of S.
bonariensis (Kew ID: K00056894). We would also like to thank Christopher Davis, for his critical insight and helpful
Sphaeralcea bonariensis
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Crawford, P.H. & Hoagland, B.W. (2009) Can herbarium records be used to map alien species invasion and native species expansion over
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Cronk, Q.C. & Fuller, J.L. (2014) Plant invaders: the threat to natural ecosystems. Routledge, Chicago, 256 pp. Available from: http://
florabonaerense.blogspot.ae/2012/06/malvavisco-spheralcea-bonariensis.html (accessed 15 June 2015)
Ghersa, C.M., de la Fuente, E., Suarez, S. & Leon, R.J. (2002) Woody species invasion in the Rolling Pampa grasslands, Argentina. Agriculture,
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Jongbloed, M.V.D. (2003) The Comprehensive Guide to the Wild Flowers of the United Arab Emirates. Environmental Research and
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Vitousek, P.M., D’antonio, C.M., Loope, L.L., Rejmanek, M. & Westbrooks, R. (1997) Introduced species: a significant component of
human-caused global change. New Zealand Journal of Ecology 21 (1): 1–16.
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