Expedition reveals new species

Team of scientists discover some 200 species of plants and animals in Papua New Guinea's forested mountains.

    The new species were found in the remote Nakanai and Muller mountains [AFP]

    A team of international scientists has discovered some 200 news species of animals and plants, including an orange spider, a jabbing spiny-legged katydid (bush cricket) and a tiny long-nosed frog, in Papua New Guinea's (PNG) remote jungle-clad mountains.

    The findings were unveiled by Washington DC-based Conversation International, whose team made the discoveries during a two-month expedition in the remote Nakanai and Muller mountains in 2009.

    Among the finds: 24 frog species, scores of spiders and around 100 insects including ants and dragonflies that appear to have never been described in scientific literature before, the conservation group said.

    "They tell us how little we still know about the world," research team leader Stephen Richards said on Thursday. “There is a lot of concern, quite rightly, about biodiversity loss and climate change and the impacts on biodiversity and what biodiversity means to us. ... Then we do projects like
    this and we discover, 'Hey, we do not even know what biodiversity is out there.'''

    The expedition was part of a global project to document the biodiversity of poorly known but species-rich environments and raise conservation priorities.

    In the Nakanai mountains on New Britain island, the team found 24 new species of frogs, two new mammals, nine new species of plants, nearly 100 new insects including damselflies, katydids and ants, and approximately 100 new spiders.

    Several of the katydids and at least one ant and one mammal are so different from any known species that they represent entirely new genera, the scientists said.

    During the survey of the Muller mountains in the Southern Highlands, the scientists camped as high as 2,875 metres (8,625 feet), discovering a katydid which, when threatened, holds its large and spiny legs above its head to jab at predators.

    "We hope that news of these amazing new species will bolster the nomination of these spectacular environments for World Heritage status," Richards said in a statement announcing the discoveries.

    Communication barriers

    For thousands of years, PNG's steep mountain ranges and dense forests have restricted interaction between indigenous groups. The same geographic barriers have also limited scientific exploration.

    "As we flew in to land the helicopter in a mountain meadow, zooming into this spectacular landscape, it was an incredible realisation, knowing that no scientist has ever been there before," Richards said.

    "Standing on top of the Nakanai mountains, I could see oil palm plantations extending almost to the coast," he said.

    "It struck me just how much of the lowland forest has disappeared for oil palm. The steepness of the highlands has limited their destruction, but if people start building roads, these areas will be more accessible."

    SOURCE: Agencies


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