Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Lost World Discovered in Papua, New Guinea

The crater of the extinct volcano Mount Bosavi, on the New Guinea mainland. Photograph: Ulla Lohmann/BBC

In a lost world in a remote volcanic crater on the Pacific island of Papua, New Guinea, scientists have discovered fanged frogs, grunting fish and tiny bear-like creatures that have rocked the scientific world.

The Bosavi woolly rat had no fear of humans when it was discovered. Photograph: Jonny Keeling/BBC

A team of scientists from Britain, the United States and Papua, New Guinea found an unbelievable 40+ previously unidentified species when they climbed into the kilometre-deep crater of Mount Bosavi and explored the pristine jungle habitat. This unusual habitat has remained unchanged by man or nature since it last erupted more than 200,000 years ago. Due to the location of the volcano, life has evolved in isolation causing new species to evolve. And evolve it has. The crater of Mount Bosavi is teeming with life.

The emerald green disc on the tail feather of the king bird of paradise which are used in a courtship ritual. Photograph: Ulla Lohmann/BBC

In a remarkably rich haul from just five weeks of exploration, the biologists discovered 16 frogs which have never before been recorded by science, at least three new fish, a new bat and a giant rat, which may turn out to be the biggest in the world.

The discoveries are being seen as fresh evidence of the richness of the world's rainforests. The explorers hope their finds will add weight to calls for international action to prevent the demise of similar ecosystems. They said Papua New Guinea's rainforest is currently being destroyed at the rate of 3.5% a year.

"It was mind-blowing to be there and it is clearly time we pulled our finger out and decided these habitats are worth us saving," said Dr George McGavin who headed the expedition.

A jungle spider camouflaged as lichen. There are thought to be more than 5m species of insect and spiders yet to be found in the world's jungles.Photograph: Ulla Lohmann/BBC

The team of biologists included experts from Oxford University, the London Zoo and the Smithsonian Institution. This team is believed to be the first scientists to enter the mountainous Bosavi crater. Joining them were members of the BBC Natural History Unit filming the expedition for a three-part documentary.

They found the three-kilometre wide crater populated by spectacular birds of paradise and other undiscovered species. In the absence of big cats and monkeys, which are found in the remote jungles of the Amazon and Sumatra, the main predators are giant monitor lizards. Kangaroos have evolved to live in trees while new species include a camouflaged gecko, a fanged frog and a fish called the Henamo grunter. The grunter was so named because it makes grunting noises from its swim bladder.

A hairy caterpillar found in the rainforest. Photograph: Ulla Lohmann/BBC

"These discoveries are really significant," said Steve Backshall, a climber and naturalist who became so friendly with the never-before seen Bosavi silky cuscus, a marsupial that lives up trees and feeds on fruits and leaves, that it sat on his shoulder.

"The world is getting an awful lot smaller and it is getting very hard to find places that are so far off the beaten track."

A video showing some of the biodiversity of Papua, New Guinea.

Click here and go about one-third of the way down the page to hear the audio Of Steve Backshall describing the adventure.

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