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New monkey, marsupial and shrew amongst 8 new mammal species found in Peru

03/10/2012 09:37:30

New night monkey discovered in Peru

‘One of the largest and most important discovery for decades'
October 2012. As Curiosity searches for evidence of life on Mars, discoveries of new life on our own planet are still being made. Often nowadays they include some new inset species, or some fish; perhaps even a couple of frogs, and very occasionally a new mammal.

Eight new mammal species
A team of scientists from Peru and Mexico, led by Gerardo Ceballos of the Institute of Ecology (IE) of the UNAM (National University of Mexico), and Horacio Zeballos of the Natural History Museum of Arequipa, have made a series of discoveries, including potentially eight new mammal species, that may be one of the most important findings for biodiversity in recent decades in the Peruvian Andes.

These new species of mammals including a porcupine (Coendou), a night monkey (Aotus), possibly a gray fox (Urocyon), a marsupial (Caenolestes), a shrew (Cryptotis), various rodents (Oecomys, Oligoryzomys, Chilomys, Thomasomys) and a new species of olingo (Bassaricyon), along with frogs (Pristimantis Bustamante), and other animals. The relevance of this finding is enormous. "We found large mammals, it is still relatively common to find new species of small animals such as mice or bats, but large ones, like a porcupine, a monkey or a marsupial, which is very rare in South America, is remarkable", said the university.

The nocturnal marsupial shrew is also very unusual, as there are only three species in America.

The nocturnal marsupial shrew is also very unusual, as there are only three species in America.

This discovery provides several lessons. "Tabaconas-Namballe National Park, where the discoveries were made, is surrounded by farms where the destruction of the ecosystem is severe. This means that without active conservation and the national park, these species would have become extinct without ever being discovered." As happens in many other parts of the world.

More discoveries waiting to be made
Ceballos said that there is still much undiscovered biodiversity, but it is seriously threatened, as the rates of environmental destruction, both aquatic and terrestrial, are soaring. Ceballos considered the loss of species as part of the collapse of environmental systems, with has important implications for humans and their welfare, as the flora and fauna depend on the same environmental services and free benefits that nature provides; the quantity and quality of water and air, soil fertility, crop pollination, and providing products such as wood, fodder and honey.

Ceballos adds "Tabaconas-Namballe National Park, which lies in northern Peru close to the border with Ecudaor, is threatened by deforestation, hunting and mining, but we want to conserve the area. It is a very special, but small, area of just 32,000 hectares. Because there is a wide range of altitude (2000 to more than 3,500 meters), the vegetation is very diverse.

A new species of porcupine was identified.

A new species of porcupine was identified.

At lower altitudes there is tropical rainforest, and cooler montane forests dominate the higher slopes, where it is cooler but dominated by very diverse flora, full of epiphytes, orchids, bromeliads and mosses. At the highest altitudes, grasslands and shrubs dominate and snow and frost are frequent in winter.

New mammals
Part of the scientific exploration of the area was to list the species present, and during the inventory, many new species were found. One of the most surprising appears to be a grey fox, similar to the grey fox of Mexico. The nocturnal marsupial shrew is also very unusual, as there are only three species in America.


Most, if not all of these new species are ‘microendemic' species, which means that they only exist in a very small region and are therefore very vulnerable to extinction. Following the discoveries, a further expedition to the sanctuary, which is also home to other notable species such as the mountain tapir and the spectacled bear (South America's only bear species), will be run as part of the Second International Course at Machu Picchu, to held in November.

Gerardo Ceballos, from the National University of Mexico led the team of scientists along with Horacio Zeballos of the Natural History Museum of Arequipa

Gerardo Ceballos, from the National University of Mexico led the team of scientists along with Horacio Zeballos of the Natural History Museum of Arequipa

New sanctuary
The Peruvian government has taken note of the importance of the discoveries, and is looking at the possibility of creating a 100 hectare wildlife corridor to join Tabaconas-Namballe to a second reserve. Actions are also being undertaken to strengthen local conservation initiatives, and further studies will continue to recognise the importance of the region for biodiversity.

Ceballos said that he will continue the research. "We will study the fox and other species, including anther porcupine with orange skin that could prove to be new to science."

"If there are this many new large species, imagine what we might find from the insect world" said Ceballos.

The description of each species will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Finally, the university felt that this project is an example of the importance of collaboration between scientists from the National University, other countries in Latin America, and the world.

The study was undertaken by staff from the Institute of Ecology of the National University of Mexico, including: Academic coach Jesus Pacheco, PhD student Lourdes Martinez, and Dr. Andrés García, researcher of the Institute of Biology, specializing in reptiles and amphibians.

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