Drs. Karen and Marvin Fawley of the School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences of the University of Arkansas at Monticello, with the assistance of students in their regional flora class, believe they may have identified a new plant species endemic to Arkansas.
The possible new species is a type of toothwort, a spring-flowering perennial in the mustard family found throughout the midwestern and eastern United States. The new toothwort is located only in the Ouachita Mountains of western Arkansas, according to a research paper published in the Arkansas Academy of Science Journal authored by the Fawleys and Theo Witsell of the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission. The Ouachita population of toothwort was previously thought to be a variant of the widely-distributed toothwort species, Cardamine angustata. However, the Fawleys used DNA sequence analysis to show that the Ouachita toothworts are distinct from Cardamine angustata and other toothwort species.
The research began as a lab project for students in a regional flora class in the 2011 spring semester. The project taught students the use of molecular techniques to study a plant’s classification. Students involved in the project included current UAM students Drew Prescott of Monticello and Travis Rushing of Hampton as well as 2011 graduate Kirby McCallie of Arkansas City and 2012 graduates Scott Breedlove of Oak Grove, La., Randall Brockman of Star City, Allan Humphrey of Stuttgart, Jeffrey Lawson of Sheridan, and James Whitaker of Osceola.
The Fawleys and Witsell are currently working on additional DNA analyses and more toothwort varieties to provide more evidence that the Ouachita population of toothworts is indeed a new species and endemic to Arkansas.
Funding for the research is being provided by a UAM Faculty Research Grant.
Students assisting Drs. Karen and Marvin Fawley with their research were Scott Breedlove, Randall Brockman, Kirby McCallie, Drew Prescott, James Whitaker, Travis Rushing, Jeff Lawson and Allan Humphrey.