Thursday, May 12, 2005

ENV: Finding new families, Part I

New species of rodent found in Laos
Associated Pres, Thursday, May 12, 2005 Posted: 10:14 AM EDT (1414 GMT)

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) -- Is it a squirrel, a rat, a guinea pig? Maybe a chinchilla?

The long-whiskered rodent with stubby legs and a tail covered with dense hair resembles them all but has turned out be a previously unknown species that actually represents an entire new family of wildlife, the Wildlife Conservation Society said.

The kha-nyou, as local people call it, was discovered by a team of scientists in a hunter's market in central Laos, according to a news release from the New York-based group.

"It was for sale on a table next to some vegetables. I knew immediately it was something I had never seen before," Robert Timmins, a WCS researcher, was quoted as saying of his find.

Another colleague, Mark Robinson, later discovered other specimens caught by hunters, and also identified bone fragments in an owl pellet. Based on morphological differences in the skull and bone structure, coupled with DNA analysis, it was estimated that the animal diverged from other rodents millions of years ago.

WCS is working in Laos, in southeast Asia, to stop an illegal wildlife trade that has devastated animal populations. While wild animals are hunted for food, the biggest toll has been taken by the smuggling of wildlife to China for traditional medicine and consumption.

"To find something so distinct in this day and age is just extraordinary. For all we know, this could be the last remaining mammal family left to be discovered," Timmins said.

Read the rest here on CNN . . .

And here in The New York Times

New mammal family from Laos

Jenkins, P. D., C. W. Kilpatrick, M. F. Robinson & R. J. Timmins, 2005. Morphological and molecular investigations of a new family, genus and species of rodent (Mammalia: Rodentia: Hystricognatha) from Lao PDR. Systematics and Biodiversity (2004), 2(4): 419-454. DOI 10.1017/S1477200004001549

Abstract - During biodiversity surveys in Khammouan Province, Lao Peoples Democratic Republic, specimens of an unknown species of hystricognathous rodent were discovered in local markets being sold for food; local hunters explaining that these rock rats were trapped in the nearby limestone karst. These specimens are described here on the basis of their unique combination of external and craniodental features as members of a new family, genus and species, using comparative morphological and molecular data. Phylogenetic analyses of morphological data and of 12S rRNA and cytochrome b are presented on selected taxa from all suborders of Rodentia. The results of the molecular and morphological analyses are compared and provide the basis for a discussion of relationships of the new taxon within the Rodentia and Hystricognatha.The disjunct distribution of hystricognaths is recognised as problematic, with most families occurring in the main distributional area of South America, several others in Africa and only one family distributed in Africa and Asia. The presence of an additional hystricognath family in Southeast Asia poses interesting questions and consideration is given to the way in which this new taxon fits into the theories of the biogeographical and evolutionary history of other hystricognaths. Features of possible ecomorphological significance are briefly discussed, such as the apparent adaptations to a rock dwelling existence evident in various features of the external morphology and comparisons are made to the morphology of other known saxicolous rodents.


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