Saturday, January 16, 2010

Newly-Discovered Species Already Endangered

Cloudforest at an imperiled mountain site, Cerro Pata de Pajaro, in western Ecuador. Photograph: Paul S Hamilton/RAEI

In the misty beauty of a threatened rainforest in Ecuador, a team of scientists have discovered a new species of snail-sucking snake, 30 varieties of frog and a gecko so tiny it can perch on the top of a pencil. Amazing discoveries; but, already endangered. How can this be? We’ve only just found them; and, we might lose them in the very near future?

Unfortunately, these new discoveries were found in an area that is being rapidly deforested threatening them and the other animals there with extinction. Cerro Pata de Pájaro is the area of rain and cloud forest where the species were found; but, approximately 95% of the surrounding areas have been felled to make way for farming, said Paul Hamilton, leader of the expedition for Reptile and Amphibian Ecology International.

A glass frog from western Ecuador shows its beating heart through its transparent chest. Photograph: Paul S Hamilton/RAEI

As if this cornucopia of new species isn’t enough, in the remaining forest cover scientists have made several more important, equally amazing discoveries. Each mountaintop in the region is its own microhabitat, with its own variety of frog, lizard, and other small animal.

"In this part of Ecuador, if you go to one spot you can find 20 or 30 species of frog, and if you go to the next site over you will see a whole bunch of different ones," said Hamilton.

Important discoveries included a snake with striking red markings and a blunt snout that allows the snake to jam it’s snout into the hole of a snail shell and suction to suck the snail right out of its shell; frogs which lay their eggs in trees, rather than in water; salamanders that have no lungs but breathe entirely through their skin; geckos and at least four previously unseen types of stick insect.

An unidentified snail-sucking snake of the genus Sibon recently found in western Ecuador. A similar species is found nearly 600 miles away in Panama. Photograph: Paul S Hamilton/RAEI

Deforestation and climate change are forcing the animals to make drastic changes in their lifestyles if they are to survive. Higher temperatures and drought are forcing them to move to higher elevations in search of cooler, wetter climates. Frogs which depend heavily on the moist tree cover to protect their eggs are in the greatest danger.

It appears that we might lose these species before we learn anything about them other than they exist.

Via guardian

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