The Novel Species Paving the way for Biodiversity Conservation Program was initiated to drive research and awareness on Sri Lanka’s less charismatic but no less important threatened species. The program fuels research on vulnerable species lacking scientific data and undertakes awareness-raising campaigns in Sri Lanka to promote appreciation for the more obscure species on the island. Currently, the project is working towards driving research and awareness on Sri Lanka’s rich lichen, snake and amphibian populations.
Dilmah Conservation in partnership with the Herpetological Foundation of Sri Lanka and in association with the internationally acclaimed lichenologist Dr. Gothamie Weerakoon, have uncovered over 40 species in Sri Lanka previously unknown to science. One of the most recent confirmed additions to Sri Lanka’s novel species list through the program is the lichen Polymeridium fernandoi: this tropical lichen species was found growing on tree barks in the Sinharaja Rainforest in 2017 by Dr. Weerakoon and her research team and named after the Dilmah Tea founder Mr. Merrill J. Fernando in commemoration of the continual proactive efforts taken by Dilmah to drive research on these fascinating and underappreciated lifeforms.
Other endemic and threatened novel species discovered through the program include the snakes Dendrelaphis sinharajensis (Sinharaja Tree Snake) and Aspidura ravanai, the Dilmah Shrub Frog Psuedophilautus dilmah, poetically discovered in the very same location that James Taylor planted Sri Lanka’s first ever tea plant in 1867, and Heterodermia queensberryi – a rare species of lichen discovered growing in Dilmah’s Queensberry estate.
The Novel Species Paving the way for Biodiversity Conservation Program has uncovered over 40 species previously unknown to science, among them include 2 species of gecko, 4 snake species, 12 frogs and 23 lichens.
Dilmah Conservation released a publication on the ‘Fascinating Lichens of Sri Lanka’ by Dr. Gothamie Weerakoon in 2015, the first of its like in the nation.
In addition to the above lichen discoveries, the programme also supported the discovery of 162 new Lichen records from Sri Lanka; while these species have been previously discovered in other countries, they have not been recorded from Sri Lanka before. 25 lichens are still under review.
The lichen species Leightoniella zeylanensis found in Sri Lanka was first identified as a novel species in 1965 and was classified variously in the Collemataceae and Pannariaceae families. Concrete classification evaded scientists because of the lichens rarity. A recent finding of the lichen in Sri Lanka by Dr. Gothamie Weerakoon and her team in 2015 during the Novel Species Programme enabled them to obtain DNA sequence data and determine that L. zeylanensis is a member of the Pannariaceae, belonging to a strongly supported clade together with Physma, Lepidocollema, and Gibbosporina genera. Their research paper was published in June 2018 and can be accessed here