April 7, 2010

New Species Found in Phillipines

by Heather Falconer

In the last century, advancements in technology and science have allowed for a thorough exploration of our planet and the rapid sharing of information. So, it is a peculiar condition of our modern times that many young people feel that there is nothing left to discover — everything has already been done and found (especially the big stuff). But as those who work in the various scientific disciplines know, there is always something new to uncover. You just have to look in the right place!

In the latest volume of 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.”

Images copyright of Associate Press and Google.com

Heather Falconer

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Heather Falconer holds undergraduate degrees in Graphic Arts and Environmental Science, as well as an MFA in Writing and an MLitt in Literature. She is currently completing her PhD in Rhetoric and Composition, with an emphasis on rhetoric in/and/of science. Heather has worked internationally in academic publishing as both an author and editor, and has taught a wide range of topics – from research writing to marine biology – in the public and private educational sectors.