Over the winter break from school, UMaine led a team that identified a new species of hemlock on Ulleungdo, an island east of the Korean peninsula. The team was led by Garth Holman, a research associate in the School of Biology and Ecology at UMaine. According to UMaine News, they published their findings in the journal “Systematic Botany.”
The Ulleungdo hemlock was thought to be a disjunct population of the southern Japanese hemlock, but thorough research was discovered to be genetically similar. Finding a new temperate conifer is unusual, while discovering a new tree species is not uncommon. The large majority of plant species are found in the tropics due to diversity being higher.
The general discovery of these hemlock stems was brought to light by Nathan Havill of the U.S. Forest Service. In his research, he studied molecular phylogeny of hemlock woolly adelgids and their host plants. This inspired Holman, a UMaine alumnus, to lead his team of students to work to identify and understand the evolution in relation to other hemlocks.
The researchers used DNA sequencing to assess the phylogenetic relationships to other Tsuga species. This is how they discovered the new species, T. ulleungensis. T. ulleungenis is the first endemic gymnosperm to be discovered on the island, while 40 endemic angiosperms are found on Ulleungdo as a whole.
Holman completed his research of identifying the new species in his Ph.D. dissertation in 2014. He was supported by a National Science Foundation Gymnosperm Tree of Life grant and a USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture award.
Other people who were a part of the research team include Nam Sook Lee, Ewha Womans University; Richard Cronn, U.S. Forest Service; Sarah Mathews, Australian National Herbarium; Linda Raubeson, Central Washington University and Christopher Campbell, University of Maine.