Wednesday, June 8, 2011

600 new species in Madagascar - but many already in danger

The equivalent of one new species a week has been discovered in Madagascar since 1999, however many of these newly identified plants and animals are already under threat, according to a report released by WWF today.

Treasure Island: New biodiversity in Madagascar, compiles just over a decade of scientific discoveries, revealing that between 1999 and 2010, scientists identified more than 615 new species, including 41 mammals, on the island.
New finds include 385 plants, 42 invertebrates, 17 fish, 69 amphibians, 61 reptiles and 41 mammals. Unfortunately, Madagascar’s unique habitats are facing numerous threats, with deforestation being one of the most serious problems.
“This report highlights the unique and irreplaceable ecosystems that exist in Madagascar,” says Mark Wright, Conservation Science Advisor at WWF-UK. “WWF is working hard to establish a network of protective areas across the island, and to promote sustainable livelihood alternatives, which would help people in Madagascar to live in harmony with the natural world surrounding them.”
Key Discoveries:
  • weighing only 30 grams and with a body length of just 10 cm Berthe’s Mouse Lemur (Microcebus berthae), discovered in 2000, is the world’s smallest known primate.
  • the magnificent Tahina Palm (Tahina spectabilis) is a massive fan palm which flowers only once in a lifetime with a spectacular, giant inflorescence that forms from the centre of the crown
  • Komac’s golden orb spider (Nephila komaci) spins huge webs of golden silk, often greater than 1m in diameter. It is the first species of Nephila to be described since 1879 and the largest to date. Female Orb-weaving spiders are far bigger than the males: a female of the new species has a body length of almost 4 cm whilst the male has a body length of less than 1 cm
  • a new colour-changing gecko, resembling the bark of a tree, which can quickly change from a subtle brown to bright blue during courtship was discovered in 2009
Although newly discovered, many of these species are facing a bleak future, due to rapidly progressing environmental degradation, driven mainly by deforestation. In the aftermath of a coup in March 2009 and subsequent political turmoil, Madagascar's rainforests were pillaged for precious hardwoods, especially rosewood. Tens of thousands of hectares were affected, including some of the island's most biologically diverse national parks Marojejy, Masoala, Makira and Mananara.
“Over the last 20 years, Madagascar has lost more than a million hectares of forest,” says Mark Wright.  “WWF is campaigning to protect forests in Madagascar and around the world and one way to do that is by promoting sustainable use of these resources. Consumers can play a vital role and so we are trying to raise awareness of the enormous global trade in illegal timber and encourage people to only choose responsibly sourced and sustainable wood and paper.”

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