Monday, April 10, 2006

ENV: Camiguin Island Endemics

Nature For Life
New discoveries on Camiguin Island

Located in north Mindanao, Camiguin Island, is the smallest island in the Philippines currently known to support unique species of mammals (Heaney, 1986) and is smaller than any island previously known to support an endemic bird (Peterson et. al, 2000). Measuring only 265 square kilometers, it is surrounded by deepwater (more than 125m) with moderate rain forest. Climate is dry from March to May, wet from October to January and moist during the rest of the year. The original vegetation was tropical rainforest at 800m with montane and mossy forest to the peaks but by the mid 1990s virtually no original vegetation remained below 200m and little from 300 to about 800m. There are at least 24 species of mammals and at least 54 species of birds (additional fieldwork is likely to document new species) on the island, thus, making it very important for conservation.

Most of the lowland forest had been replaced with coconut plantations, agricultural areas and grassland. In 2001 it was estimated that 82 percent of the island, or 208 km2 was covered by croplands and other inhabited areas with almost half the island covered with coconut plantation http://agri10.normi­net.­org.­ph as cited by Heaney and Tabaranza in Fieldiana, 2006). According to local residents, deforestation was caused by commercial logging operations in the 1980s, with the logged over areas subsequently converted to agriculture, followed by kaingin.

A frequent visitor to our country is Dr. Larry Heaney, curator of Mammals of the Field Museum in Chicago. He comes annually and undertakes field expeditions in the remaining forests and surprisingly, in spite of the extent of forest destruction that has happened, he still continues to make discoveries in almost every trip. The latest discoveries that he and Prof. Blas Tabaranza, Haribon’s operations group head, have are a new species of the hanging-parrot or colasisi and a forest mouse. The bird is now named Loriculus caimiguinensis, or Camiguin Hanging-parrot, while the forest mouse is called Apomys camigui­nensis. These are endemic or can be found only on the island of Camiguin. These two new species were discovered as a result of recent and earlier field studies. The colasisi was found in the municipalities of Catarman and Mahinog at an elevation between 1000 and 4500 ft. Its wingspan measures 99.8mm. The colasisi has bright green feathers covering most of the body. It throat and thighs are bright blue and the top of the head and tail are brilliant scarlet-orange. Males and females have identical plumage which is quite unusual for this group of parrots. According to the Field Museum, because L. cami­guinensis has not been recognized as a separate species, little is known about its habits and it has been overlooked in terms of conservation. However, the small size of the island of Camiguin, coupled with extensive deforestation, makes the status of the new species significant conservation concern.

The other discovery is a forest mouse closely related to two species (A. hylocoetes and A. insignis) in Mindanao Island and to an unmanned species from Leyte, Biliran and Bohol islands. The distribution of A. cami­guinensis is known only from the upper elevations on Mt. Timpoong but probably occurs throughout the montane and mossy rain forest on Camiguin Island, and possibly at lower elevation. It has moderate body size, but somewhat robust build for the genus, long tail, long but unusually broad hind foot, large eyes and ears with an average length of 254-260mm.

Because of the rate of deforestation in Camiguin Island, Heaney and Tabaranza recommend to expand the enforcement efforts to protect the existing forest, expand reforestation projects using only native trees, cancel existing salvage cutting permits for dead and fallen trees because they have often been abused and for the local government to actively participate in the conservation measures. At this point, we may think that these animals do not have any use for us but as what has always been said, we are all part of the web of life. Each living thing is unique and has a role to play. And just like the fine strands of a spider’s web, if one is broken, the web is not a web anymore. We should not think that because we have brains and can think more than any other living thing, we can rule the world, do anything with them and exist without them. The natural disasters that are now coming our way are just fair warnings that if we do not take care of our environment, Nature will have her way.


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