|The new species help strengthen the public’s ability to make informed decisions in conserving the Earth’s resources. / Photo by Eva Volpato via 123rf|
Scientists at the California Academy of Sciences have added 71 new plant and animal species in 2019, enhancing people’s understanding of nature’s web of life. The new species, which include Mediterranean ants, flowering plants, goblin spiders, and geckos, also help strengthen the public’s ability to make informed decisions in conserving the Earth’s resources.
List of new species discovered this year
The California Academy of Sciences shared on its site that the new species discovered include two lizards, two corals, two wasps, two skates, two mosses, three skinks, three ants, four eels, five arachnids, six sea slugs, eight flowering plants, 15 geckos, and 17 fish. More than a dozen scientists in the said research institute with the help of their international collaborators helped describe the discoveries.
“More than 90% of nature’s species remain unknown,” Academy Chief of Science Shannon Bennett, Ph.D. said. This is despite decades of effort being invested in scouring some of the most remote and most familiar places on Earth. The estimate of the percentage of the Earth’s species that are still unknown was provided by biodiversity scientists. They said that a rich diversity of animals and plants enables the planet to thrive. Even with the climate crisis, the interconnectedness of the living systems on the planet creates collective resilience. For every species discovered, it serves as a reminder of the significant role that humans play in better preserving and understanding the “precious ecosystems,” Bennett added.
Frank Almeda, PhD., Emeritus Curator of Botany, highlighted their discovery of a white-blossomed plant called Trembleya altoparaisensis. They based their discovery on the various specimens gathered more than a hundred years ago by well-known 19th-century botanist Auguste François Marie Glaziou. The researchers added that the plant was not easy to find in the wild as it was as rare today as it was before.
Ricardo Pacifico, a Ph.D. student collaborating with Almeda, shared that people may not imagine that plants move, but they do. Plants move to locations that better suit them when there are changes in the environment. Pacifico, who sometimes depends on studying single museum specimens that were collected from decades ago to track the present whereabouts of the plants, finds plant migrations both rewarding and challenging. In his present work, he has been able to track the living Trembleya altoparaisensis by visiting the Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park in Brazil.
Significance of documenting species in the national parks
Almeda pointed out the importance of the fieldwork conducted by Pacifico as it helped document the exact location of where the plants thrive in the wild. He added that although the national parks are secured, it would be important if people also know what grows in these parks for conservation purposes. Other species documented include Gravesia serratifolia and T. altoparaisensis, found in a national park in Madagascar. This was further discussed in the official list of new species; their discovery was made possible by Almeda’s former student Heritiana Ranarivelo. The authors believe that documenting the species in the park is “crucial” for effective park management in case of disasters, such as wildfires.
A new skate (fish) has also been discovered because of Ichthyology Research Associate David Ebert, Ph.D. The California Academy of Sciences stated that the Falkland Island in the South Atlantic Ocean has long been one of the biggest distributors of ray-like fish that live up to almost 600 meters or 2,000 feet of depth. The fish is likewise well-known in Korea, where they are either filleted or fermented by the residents for steaks.
In their research, Ebert and colleagues reveal that some of the skates sold on the market may not be previously thought Dipturus chilensis, but are instead new species called the Dipturus lamillai. Ebert has likewise encouraged the fisheries to survey their practices and reevaluate their sustainability to prevent overfishing of the newly discovered or described skates before their status is fully evaluated. The purpose of this is to also make sure that the wrong skate will not end up as a steak on people’s dinner table.
|The authors believe that documenting the species in the (national) park is “crucial” for effective park management in case of disasters. / Photo by 1alesanko5 via 123rf|
Discovery of endangered reptiles
Another highlight of this year’s discovery of new species was the contribution of Aaron Bauer, Ph.D., the Academy Research Associate who has described over 205 reptiles during his career. For his 2019 feat, he was able to add three skinks (orange lizards), 15 mottled day geckos, and a girdled lizard residing in a high-altitude area. Bauer advised that the majority of these reptiles discovered be listed as “critically endangered” species because of their “microendemism.” This term refers to an ecological state of being unique and located only in an extremely small geographic location.
In 2018, science and nature radio series EarthSky shared that a total of 229 new species were discovered. This included venomous snakes, moray eels, fast-spinning spider, and neon fish. Scientists discovered these species in three oceans and five continents.