September 23, 2008

New Pacific Iguana Species is Discovered

U.S. and Australian scientists say they've discovered a new iguana species in the central regions of Fiji.

The new iguana -- Brachylophus bulabula -- joins only two other living Pacific iguana species, one of which is critically endangered. The scientific name bulabula is a doubling of bula, the Fijian word for "hello."

The U.S. Geological Survey, which led the study with scientists from Australia's National University and Macquarie University -- said the two other Pacific iguana species have nearly disappeared as the result of human presence.

"Our new understanding of the species diversity in this group is a first step in identifying conservation targets," said Robert Fisher, a USGS research zoologist in San Diego.

The scientists noted the highest islands of Fiji have been above sea level for at least 16 million years and the study's findings suggest Pacific iguanas, both extinct and living, were likely on the islands much of that time.

The discovery that included Danielle Edwards of the Australian National University and Peter Harlow of Macquarie University was reported in a recent special edition of the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B that paid tribute to Charles Darwin's contribution to the Pacific region.