Luzon has greatest concentration of unique mammals

Photo credit: Larry Heaney, The Field Museum. This tree-dwelling mouse, which has whiskers that reach all the way to its ankles, is one of the 28 newly discovered species unique to Luzon.

Photo credit: Larry Heaney, The Field Museum. This tree-dwelling mouse, which has whiskers that reach all the way to its ankles, is one of the 28 newly discovered species unique to Luzon.

By Janvic Mateo/The Philippine Star – Twenty-eight unique species of mammals have been discovered in Luzon, according to a research project that touted the Philippines’ largest island as having the “greatest concentration” of unique mammals in the world.

A study published recently in sthe cientific journal Frontiers of Biogeography bared the results of a 15-year project that looked into the mammalian biodiversity of Luzon.

“We started our study on Luzon in 2000 because we knew at the time that most of the native mammal species on the island were unique to the island, and we wanted to understand why that is the case,” said project leader Lawrence Heaney in a statement.

“We did not expect that we would double the number already known,” he said, noting that 28 non-flying mammals were discovered during the course of the project.

Heaney, who worked with a team of American and Filipino researchers, is the Negaunee Curator of Mammals at The Field Museum in Chicago.

Other co-authors include Danilo Balete of The Field Museum, Mariano Roy Duya and Melizar Duya of the University of the Philippines, Sharon Jansa of the University of Minnesota, Scott Steppan of the Florida State University and Eric Rickart of the Natural History Museum of Utah.

The paper also revealed that out of the 56 species of non-flying mammal species that are now known to live in Luzon, 52 live nowhere else in the planet. And researchers said the island has the “greatest concentration” of unique mammals in the world.

According to the team, 28 new species were discovered during the course of the project. Nineteen of them are formally described in scientific journals and nine are currently “in the works.”

“All 28 of the species we discovered during the project are members of two branches on the tree of life that are confined to the Philippines,” said Rickart.

“There are individual mountains on Luzon that have five species of mammals that live nowhere else. That’s more unique species on one mountain than live in any country in continental Europe. The concentration of unique biodiversity in the Philippines is really staggering,” he added.

The team also discovered 57 species of bats that mostly live in the hot, humid lowlands.

These include the golden-crowned flying fox, which is one of the heaviest bats in the world, and the lesser flat-headed bat that “is so tiny that it can roost inside the hollow spaces inside bamboo stems.”

Protection a big challenge

Balete, a research associate of the Field Museum, said that the study also sought to learn about the conservation status of the animals.

“The Philippines is one of the most heavily deforested countries in the tropics; only about seven percent of the old-growth tropical forest is left. We learned that quite a few of the species are seriously threatened by habitat loss and over-hunting, but none are yet extinct,” he said.

“Protecting all of these species from extinction is going to be a big challenge. The good news is that when the native forest is allowed to regenerate, the native mammals move back in, and the pest rats get kicked out,” he added.

The authors said Luzon has never been connected to any continental land and that the species have been isolated like the animals that live in Hawaii.

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