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Researchers Scour Philippines For New Species

June 9, 2011

US and Filipino researchers believe they have discovered scores of new species of animals in the waters and islands of the Philippines, they said Wednesday.

The discoveries exhibited the vast amount of biodiversity that exists in the Southeast Asian archipelago, which is under severe threat from pollution, overfishing and climate change, said the experts from the California Academy of Sciences and local Filipino institutions.

The team found numerous starfish, sea urchins, eels and barnacles, many of which had not been documented by other scientists in the past, said Richard Mooi, a marine scientist from the California Academy, who was involved in the discoveries.

“We found at least 75 new species, perhaps more,” he told AFP. But “more analysis is needed” to ensure these are in fact new species.

“Unquestionably, we found 20 new species of starfish and sea urchins alone,” Mooi noted.

John McCosker, a fellow scientist at California Academy, said they also discovered several small “cat sharks” with brown backs and dark stripes and white bellies, colors which had never been observed on any other shark before.

The sharks were picked up by a trawler net 6,600 feet below the surface. The “cat sharks” are about two feet long and feed mainly on shrimp, McCosker, head of the aquatic biology department, told the French news agency.

“We found one new species of eel, possibly a new species of pipe fish, new species of barnacles, new species of nudibranch (shell-less) mollusks,” said Terry Gosliner, dean of California Academy.

Filipino entomologist Ireneo Lit said his team also believed they had discovered several new species, including a cicada that makes high-pitched laughing sounds. “The local residents were afraid of them. They thought the laughter was from dwarves, laughing dwarves,” he told AFP.

The cicada was found on Mount Banahaw, a volcano on the main island of Luzon.

Lit, director of a national history museum at the University of the Philippines, said he would check with the Museum of Natural History in Paris to confirm if his team’s find was that of a new species.

The Filipino team had also trawled the waters off Batangas province and Taal Lake south of Manila. The team also took samples of fauna (plant) from the volcano and other surrounding mountains on Luzon, where scientists found three possibly new species of spiders, according to American spider expert Charles Griswold.

It will take several months of work in the laboratory to confirm if any, if not all, the finds are truly new species. But with the large number of experts involved in the expedition, Mooi said they could easily tell if they had really discovered something new or not.

Edgardo Gomez, a professor of the University of the Philippines’ Marine Science Institute, said marine biodiversity in the Philippines is under siege from climate change and other factors.

While Theresa Mundita Lim, head of the environment ministry’s Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau, warned that some species could become extinct before they are even documented and described in detail.

“The research on biodiversity is not at pace with the threats. The threats are more numerous,” she said.

Image Caption: A view of Taal Lake, Luzon, Philippines, from an elevated terrain. Credit: Wikipedia  

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