The discovery of new species in relatively well-explored Australia leads Karl Mathiesen to investigate how many other natural wonders may exist unknown to science… Recently discovered species in Australia and the Amazon emphasise just how little humans know about the cavalcade of life with which we share the planet. Some scientists estimate the number of known species to be less than 13 per cent of the total…
Recently discovered species in Australia and the Amazon emphasise just how little humans know about the cavalcade of life with which we share the planet. Some scientists estimate the number of known species to be less than 13 per cent of the total. Jessica Aldred wrote recently about the thrilled Australian biologists who found a skink, gecko and frog living in the rainforests of far north Queensland. Finding three new, obviously distinct vertebrates would be surprising enough in somewhere poorly explored like New Guinea, let alone in Australia, a country we think we’ve explored pretty well,” said Dr Conrad Hoskin of James Cook University, who led the expedition together with Dr Tim Laman from Harvard University. “The top of Cape Melville is a lost world. Finding these new species up there is the discovery of a lifetime – I’m still amazed and buzzing from it.”
In order to discover new species, biologists endure deprivation, isolation, discomfort and yet often we find new species where we least expect them. In this piece, I’ll be looking at some of the most interesting stories from biology’s quest for unknown creatures and asking experts questions including how many may still exist? Where will we find them and how? You too can help with the investigation. Please contribute your own thoughts and tales of species exploration in the comments below, tweet me, or email me. If you are quoting figures or studies, please provide a link to the original source. Later I will return with my own verdict.
There have been a number of new additions to biology’s pantheon in recent weeks. As well as the discovery of amphibians and reptiles in Australia, scientists last week announced 400 novel species were discovered during the past four years in the Amazon basin. These included the purring Caqueta titi monkey. Researchers in northernAustralia announced yesterday the description of a new species of humpback dolphin. Although this species had long been observed, scientists were only recently able to confirm it was entirely separate to other similar dolphins. In Suriname a team found 60 new species including six frogs. This was particularly exciting in a part of the world where the amphibian population has been decimated by the chytrid fungus.
Trond Larsen from Conservation International said: “With many frog species rapidly disappearing around the globe, we were surprised and uplifted to discover so many frogs potentially new to science, including a stunningly sleek ‘cocoa’ tree frog.” Earlier this month the Independent reported Tony Goldberg, a US professor of pathobiological science, had discovered a new species of tick… up his nose.
Have you found a new species in your backyard?
I’ve just recieved this email from Matt Sutton, who runs an ecological farm consultancy : “I started looking at fungi on my SSSI in west Wales this year. I bought the latest guide to ‘brittlegills’ or Russulas – a popular group of colourful large fungi. The first thing I tried to key out didn’t fit, so I sent photos to the author. His reply: “I have looked carefully at your strange little Russula and must say it does not suggest anything obvious to me at all…. If you find another then do send it to me. The reddish flush on the stem apex is very odd (as is the entire fungus!). There are certainly still new things out there and various European species still to be found here so we should not be too surprised when things do not fit…” Beginners luck? I suspect not. The world of fungi is complex and few people are looking in the far corners.
Patrick Roper has spent a decade analysing a square metre of his backyard. He has found 700 species occupying the area. I couldn’t see if he had made any novel discoveries but the project is a nice example of the diversity of life everywhere.
– The Guardian