Wednesday, April 7, 2010
New Species Found in Phillipines
Biology Letters, scientists working in the Philippines discuss their discovery of a new species of monitor lizard (genus Varanus). The giant, golden-spotted lizard, a relative of the Komodo dragon, is approximate 6 1/2 feet long, lives in the northern forests of the Sierra Madre mountains in Luzon, and feeds solely on fruits and snails. Apparently, the scientists learned about the species for the first time in 2004, when they spotted local tribesmen carrying one of the dead creatures.
As the article notes, the researchers used "data from morphology and mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequences, [to] demonstrate the taxonomic distinctiveness" of the species. This information provided insight into the biogeographical history of the organism; a phylogenetic analysis shows that, though the lizard differs in "characteristics of scalation, colour pattern, body size, anatomy of the reproductive organs and genetic divergence," it is still closely related to lizards on other, nearby islands.
The discovery is noteworthy for many reasons, but particularly because the organism in question is so large. Finding new species of large vertebrates is not nearly as common as finding new types of frogs, insects, or small fishes. Even more, this discovery comes about on an island under significant threat from development and deforestation. Rafe Brown, a member of the team that discovered the monitor lizard, said in a statement to the Associated Press, that they "hope that by focusing on protection of this new monitor, conservation biologists and policy makers can work together to protect the remaining highly imperiled forests of northern Luzon."
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