Scientists, supported by Fauna and Flora international, recently announced that they had found an unprecedented fifteen gecko species that are new to science.
The discoveries were made in the karst (limestone) landscapes in Myanmar over a two-week period in October 2016. Characterised by dramatic hills and caves, these limestone landscapes are noted for their outstanding biodiversity. The isolated nature of these hills and caves, and the extreme conditions often found within them, have created the perfect recipe for a highly biodiverse landscape, rich in endemic species that are unique to the area.
“Some of these species were found in rebel-held territory, making effective conservation even more challenging.”
The new species, 12 species of bent-toed gecko from the genus Cyrtodactylus and three dwarf geckos from the genus Hemiphyllodactylus, were found in isolated limestone habitats in east-central and southern Myanmar. It is understood that all are restricted to the individual limestone blocks where they were found.
Dr Tony Whitten, Fauna & Flora International’s Senior Adviser comments, “Although we already knew that some less mobile cave species such as snails and fish were restricted to just one cave or limestone hill, we now know that the same applies to some geckos.”
The survey was led by Dr L. Lee Grismer of La Sierra University in California, who is also the senior author of all three resulting papers. In them, Dr Grismer states, “this discovery is particularly significant because all 15-new species come from an endangered microhabitat in a country that, until only recently, was cut off from the world due to civil conflict and which has only a nascent conservation sector. Some of these species were found in rebel-held territory, making effective conservation even more challenging.”
Despite increasing recognition of their importance for biodiversity, karst landscapes are highly threatened as a result of quarrying by the cement industry.
Drawing attention to this issue, the researchers write: “In an age of biodiversity crisis, managing and conserving these karst ecosystems throughout Southeast Asia should be given greater priority.”
Dr Grismer notes that Myanmar has some of the most extensive areas of karst in all of Southeast Asia, yet it is the least protected. “Hundreds of new species could face extinction without proper management,” he says, “but this [management] cannot happen unless these species are discovered and described – hence why we are ramping up our efforts in these regions.”
H. tonywhitteni is known only from one cave in the Taunggyi District
These exciting discoveries have been reported in the Journal of Natural History, which describes the three new dwarf geckos; the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, which describes the 12-new bent-toed geckos. A third paper based on subsequent discoveries in May 2017 is currently being written and describes four more species of bent-toed geckos.
Whilst most of the species are being named after the local areas where they were found, one of the species, Hemiphyllodactylus tonywhitteni, was named after Fauna & Flora International’s Dr Tony Whitten, who has been a passionate advocate for the conservation of karst landscapes and their remarkable biodiversity. H. tonywhitteni is known only from one cave in the Taunggyi District.
According to the paper, this epithet “honours Dr Tony Whitten who has championed a broad range of conservation efforts in Indonesia and Asia-Pacific for well over a quarter of a century. His tireless efforts to conserve and help manage karst ecosystems have been a great inspiration to the senior author [Dr Grismer].”
Fauna & Flora International is a global leader in protecting these limestone landscapes and will continue to work with governments, companies, and local experts and communities to further its goal of effective biodiversity management across Asia’s unique karst landscapes.
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