By MALUM NALU
At least 1,060 new species of plants and animals have been discovered on the island of New Guinea, comprising the Indonesian province of Papua and Papua New Guinea, between 1998 and 2008, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
|Litoria sauroni, a tree frog discovered in Kikori, and named after Sauron of The Lord of the Rings fame in reference to his striking red and black mottled eyes.-Picture by STEPHEN RICHARDS|
These were discovered in the forests, wetlands and waters of New Guinea and include 218 plants, 580 invertebrates, 71 fishes, 134 amphibians, 43 reptiles, two birds and 12 mammals.
“Such is the extent of New Guinea’s biodiversity that new species continue to be discovered even today,” the report says.
“A 2009 expedition to the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea featured on the BBC series Lost Land of the Volcano found an estimated 40 new species, including at least 16 new species of frog, two new species of lizard, three new fish species, one new species of bat, and an undescribed endemic subspecies of the silky cuscus, a type of possum.
“Another mammal, and the largest new species of animal discovered during the trip, was a giant wooly rat, found in the forest inside the crater of Mount Bosavi.
“Since 2008, more than 100 new species have been described by scientists, and clearly many more await scientific discovery and discovery.”
The report says if managed sustainably, the island’s precious habitats such as reefs, rainforests and wetlands will continue to thrive into the next century, because unlike most other parts of the world, these resources are at present relatively untouched.
Cadetia kutubu found in the Kikori region of PNG.-Picture by WAYNE HARRIS
“Forests are home to 80% of all terrestrial species on Earth and 1.6 billion people rely on the resources that forests provide,” she said.
“They cover a third of all land areas and are home to 300 million people worldwide.
“So all very pertinent to Papua New Guinea.
“As we know, PNG is one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots.
“Its wildlife represents about 507 percent of the world’s biodiversity as it is home to hundreds of species of mammals, birds as well as plants.
“Visiting scientists continue to make remarkable discoveries in different parts of the country.
“The Island of New Guinea contains one of the world’s last truly unspoilt wildernesses, a final frontier on the edge of the Pacific that is richly endowed with between 6 and 8% of global biodiversity on less than 0.5 per cent of the earth’s landmass.
“With 36 million hectares of PNG still under natural forest cover there is potential for more discoveries but with the effects of climate change, and de forestation, being seen and felt everywhere, there has never been such an important time for Papua New Guinea to grasp environmental education and provide its population with valuable knowledge and skills to look after its diverse forestry which ultimately house these species.”
New Guinea is the largest and most-mountainous island (785, 753 sq km) and lies on the edge of the South Pacific and South-east Asia.
“In terms of its biological distinctiveness,” says the WWF report, “New Guinea is more like a continent than an island, possessing a staggering array of endemic animal and plant species.
|Tropidonophis dolasii, one of many discoveries made by scientists working for the |
Bishop Museum, in the D’Entrecasteaux Islands of PNG.-Picture by FRED KRAUS
“The island’s landmass is home to about 6% of the world’s known land species, around half of which are strictly endemic.
“New Guinea’s share of Earth’s species rises to 8% when fish in its seas are taken into account.
“The island is home to more than 800 species of birds, including 38 of the 42 known birds of paradise.
“It’s estimated that a single square kilometre of lowland rainforest may contain as many as 150 species of birds.
“The known herpetofauna (reptiles and amphibians) of New Guinea consists of 350 species of frogs and 400 species of reptiles (two crocodiles, 17 turtles, 251 lizards and 130 snakes.
“Around 240 mammals are found in New Guinea – 4.5% of the world’s total, a remarkable nine times the average global density of mammal species.
“Most of these mammals (62%) are endemic.
“The highest diversity of tree-dwelling marsupials in the world exists here, with 38 species.
“The island is home to 12 of the 14 known tree kangaroos (of which four are critically endangered and three are endangered).
“Four species of echidnas (spiny egg-laying mammals) also inhabit New Guinea: the Short-beaked echidna in the south west, and three species of the genus Zaglossus, or Long-beaked Echidna.
“New Guinea also supports nine of the 11 species of forest wallabies.
“Bat species are more numerous than all other mammal species on the island – Papua New Guinea alone has 91 known species, 9% of the planet’s 986 bat species.
“Much of the interior of the island is covered with dense rainforest containing emblematic trees such as ebony, sandalwood, cedar and camphor.
“Rare trees include the Papua Ebony, Diospyros insularis, found only in a few locations on New Ireland in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
“Trees of the genus Gyrinops and Aquilaria, which produce the rare and high-value fragrant resin eaglewood, still grow wild in parts of New Guinea.
“These forests are generally considered to support at least 21,000 plant species.”
WWF adds in the report that very little is known about invertebrate life in New Guinea, which is a much-understudied but exciting area for further scientific discovery.
|The WWF report|
“The largest butterfly in the world, the Queen Alexandra Birdwing, which has a wingspan of up to 30cm, lives within the lowland coastal rainforest of the island; the male is spectacularly coloured, with iridescent yellow, blue and green markings..
“The island’s flora and fauna is a unique mix of elements from the neighbouring South-east Asian, Australian and Pacific regions.
“As a result of this and the island’s isolated habitats, the species of New Guinea have evolved in remarkable ways.”
New Guinea is already the ‘Land of the Giants’, boasting:
• Largest butterfly (Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing);
• Largest tree frog (white-Lipped Tree Frog);
• Largest mosses (Dawsonia spp.);
• Longest lizard (Salvador’s Monitor);
• Largest Pigeons (Crowned Pigeon);
• Largest moth (Atlas Moth);
• Most massive orchid (Grammatophyllum spp.);
• Largest bandicoot (Giant Bandicoot);
• Largest egg-laying mammal (Eastern Long-Beaked Echidna); and
• The tallest tropical tree (Klinki Pine).
In addition to these, New Guinea’s unique environment is also home to other extraordinary species:
• World’s only poisonous birds, the Pitohui spp. (seven species);
• Highest diversity of arboreal marsupials in the world;
• Highest diversity of rainbow fishes in the world; and
• World’s smallest parrots (Micropsitta spp.).
And this could only be the tip of the iceberg!