Incredible array of new species found in remote Papua New Guinea07/10/2010 23:23:46 New frogs, spiders, & rodents among 200 new species discovered
Coordinated by Conservation International's (CI) Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) in partnership with Papua New Guinea's Institute for Biological Research (IBR) and A Rocha International, two scientific teams made these extraordinary discoveries in the country's rugged and poorly-known Nakanai and Muller Ranges in 2009.
The searches were conducted as part of CI's global efforts to document the biodiversity of poorly known but species-rich environments, and raise their profile to assist local communities establish conservation priorities for future development.
24 new frog species & new genera of mammal and insects
The Nakanai Mountains host some of the world's largest underground rivers and most spectacular cave systems, which have prompted their nomination for World Heritage status by Papua New Guinea's Department of Environment and Conservation.
Among the highlights of the Nakanai surveys, were the discoveries of a new and beautiful yellow-spotted frog (Platymantis sp. nov.), found only high up on the mountains in the wet rainforests, as well as a bizarre little ceratobatrachid frog (Batrachylodes sp. nov.) which is just two centimetres long.
Unlike most of his relatives that call for females at night, the new ceratobatrachid advertises with his call late in the afternoon after drenching tropical storms. Conservation International herpetologist and RAP team leader Stephen Richards described it as the most exciting and surprising herpetological discovery of the survey because it belongs to a group of frogs previously only known from the Solomon Islands further to the east.
New mouse species is new genus
Richards said, "With both the Nakanai Mountains and the Muller Range on UNESCO's World Heritage Tentative List, we hope that news of these amazing new species will bolster the nomination of these spectacular environments for World Heritage status".
New ants, spiders, frogs and katydids
Documented during the Muller expeditions was an exquisitely patterned emerald-green katydid (Mossula sp. nov. 1), a brilliantly pink-eyed katydid that lives in the forest canopy (Caedicia), and a sharp-legged katydid (Mossula sp. nov.) with an especially interesting defense mechanism that, when threatened, prompts it to hold its unusually large and spiny legs vertically above its head to jab at predators, a behavior which RAP scientist Piotr Naskrecki described from firsthand experience as "very painful".
Also found during these surveys was an extremely abundant new species of Rhododendron plant with spectacular large white flowers. Rhododendrons are among the most avidly sought-after plants in the Southeast Asian and Melanesian regions because of their ornamental value, and New Guinea is a well-known centre of diversity for these plants.
Inaccessible - But endangered
In the Nakanai Mountains CI-Papua New Guinea has been working with the East New Britain Provincial Government and local communities to protect a large tract of rainforest, where the communities did not want logging to take place on their customary lands. Following the RAP surveys though, local community members from both Nakanai and Muller reported that they would be willing to participate in any potential project that did not involve destruction of their forest, and that proper management and protection of their traditional forest resources remains an extremely high priority.
"Within Papua New Guinea virtually each place is unique containing incredible biodiversity. We are far from understanding the ecological mosaic of our country which is changing before our eyes.", said CI-Papua New Guinea country director David Mitchell. "So it's our hope in working together with communities faced with social change and development pressures that we appreciate and build upon their links to the environment, with a balance of conservation action and livelihood concerns, that are sustainable into the future."
"There's no question that the discoveries we made in both surveys are incredibly significant both for the large numbers of new species recorded, and the new genera identified," said Leeanne Alonso, whose Rapid Assessment Program at CI has been documenting new species around the globe since 1990. "While very encouraging, these discoveries do not mean that our global biodiversity is out of the woods. On the contrary, they should serve as a cautionary message about how much we still don't know about Earth's still hidden secrets and important natural resources, which we can only preserve with coordinated, long-term management."
The two surveys were a collaboration between Conservation International and A Rocha International, with funding provided by a generous grant from the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation. Professor Sir Ghillean Prance, Chair of the A Rocha International Board, explained his organization's interest in searching for new species.
"As Christians, we believe we are called to care for creation and ensure that life on Earth is protected and respected, no matter how seemingly insignificant a particular species might appear to be," Prance said. "We also believe that we have a responsibility to help the poorest members of society, whose needs very often go hand in hand with natural resources, as it is usually the poorest people who live most closely to nature and depend on it for their daily needs. This work is therefore highly important to us, and we are pleased to have partnered with CI to announce the new species discovered."
A Rocha International is now involved in follow-up work in Papua New Guinea, in order to achieve the long-term protection of forests shown to have been of high conservation importance.