UST GS, CS graduates discover new endemic
Philippine species Pyrostria arayatensis

After three years of botanical exploration, a team of student researchers from the University of Santo Tomas (UST) discovered a new plant species endemic to the Philippines, Pyrostria arayatensis, in Mount Arayat National Park (MANP) in Pampanga. The discovery was one of the four topics from the doctoral dissertation of Dr. Marlon D.L. Suba who obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Santo Tomas Graduate School.

It was published in the international scientific journal of Annales Botanici Fennici on August 10, 2020. The exploration was conducted by UST Graduate School researchers Dr. Marlon D.L. Suba and Dr. Axel H. Arriola, who both finished their doctoral degrees in Biology under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Grecebio Jonathan D. Alejandro, the director of the UST GS Office for Graduate Research. Also assisting the team were UST College of Science students under the B.S. Biology program who graduated in 2018, Nicolas Raphael Arcangel, Jomari Jalipa, Joaquim Gerardo Jurilla, and Jose Manuel Villasenor, who were Dr. Alejandro’s advisees in their undergraduate thesis. Suba is concurrently the Dean of the Angeles University Foundation College of Arts and Sciences, while Arriola is a faculty member at the University of the East. The first sample of P. arayatensis was initially found by the team in 2017 in the lowland forest of the 3,715-hectare area of MANP after securing clearance from the Protected Area Management Board of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

The MANP, considered as one of the centers of biodiversity in the Philippines, is a protected area that is still not well-explored and with very few published studies that are available, explained Alejandro. A respected scientist in the field of Botany here and abroad, he added that “The dearth of the scientific studies led us to consider the said mountain to search for possible new species as well as medicinal plants.” According to Alejandro who was interviewed online, with this discovery of a new species from the family Rubiaceae, it is not unreasonable to say that “[MANP] has ideal qualities as habitats for endemic species,” and its protected status and dormant stratovolcano are possible contributing factors for the presence of endemic species. In the Philippines, the genus Pyrostria is currently represented by P. elmeri, P. obovatifolia, P. oligophlebia, P. ramosii, P. subsessilifolia and P. triflora, while the conservation status of P. arayatensis is still unknown, the study stated. All belonging to the Rubiaceae family (coffee plant), it is the fourth largest flowering plant family in the world with over 500 species present in the Philippines.