December 15, 2008

Over 1,000 New Species Discovered In Mekong

Researchers have reported the discovery of more than 1,000 new species in the Greater Mekong region over the past decade.

The region, comprised of wetlands and rainforest along the Mekong River in Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam and China, has been a plentiful source of species never seen before, such as a bright pink spiny dragon millipede or a spider with a foot-long leg span.

From 1997 until 2007, at least 1,068 new species have been identified in the Greater Mekong region, according to the new report, "First Contact in the Greater Mekong."

"This report cements the Greater Mekong's reputation as a biological treasure trove -- one of the world's most important storehouses of rare and exotic species," said Dekila Chungyalpa, Director of the WWF-US Greater Mekong Program. "Scientists keep peeling back the layers and uncovering more and more wildlife wonders."

Researchers discovered 15 mammals in the region, one of which was the extremely rare Laotian rock rat, Laonastes aenigmamus.

The rat, first documented by scientists at a food market, is the sole survivor of an ancient group of rodents considered to have become extinct 11 million years ago.

Scientists also came across a large huntsman spider in the caves in Laos, Thailand. Heteropoda maxima was only one of 88 new species of spider discovered in Laos and the Yunnan province of China.

"We thought discoveries of this scale were confined to the history books. This reaffirms the Greater Mekong's place on the world map of conservation priorities," said Stuart Chapman, the director of WWF's Greater Mekong program.

The findings, highlighted in this report, include 519 plants, 279 fish, 88 frogs, 88 spiders, 46 lizards, 22 snakes, 15 mammals, 4 birds, 4 turtles, 2 salamanders and a toad.

"This region is like what I read about as a child in the stories of Charles Darwin," said Thomas Ziegler, Curator at the Cologne Zoo. "It is a great feeling being in an unexplored area and to document its biodiversity for the first time"¦ both enigmatic and beautiful," he said.

Scientists assume that there must be many more creatures yet to be discovered, due to the large amount of those found only in the last decade. However, these species are under pressure, they said.

"This poorly understood biodiversity is facing unprecedented pressure"¦.for scientists, this means that almost every field survey yields new diversity, but documenting it is a race against time," said Raoul Bain, Biodiversity Specialist from the American Museum of Natural History.


Image 1: Gumprechts green pitviper Trimeresurus gumprechti 2002 found Greater Mekong wide except Cambodia (C) Rene Ries

Image 2: Heteropoda maxima 2001 from Khammouan Province Lao PDR (C) Petra and Wilfried


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