Wednesday, October 3, 2012

In the footsteps of Alfred Russel Wallace

Jumping spider
Peter Koomen / Naturalis)
A joint large scale expedition on the island of Borneo with researchers of the Malaysian nature conservation organization Sabah Parks and the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in The Netherlands just collected some 3500 DNA samples of more than 1400 species. Among these are likely 160 species new to science. They also came back with stunning photos of the species encountered.

The largest numbers of new species were found among spiders and fungi. Other new species include true bugs, beetles, snails, stalk-eyed flies, damselflies, ferns, termites and possibly a frog. Also a new location of the spectacular pitcher plant Nepenthes lowii has been found. 

The question is how many cryptic species among the ones collected are awaiting discovery? I am very much looking forward to the genetic analysis which hopefully will comprise DNA Barcodes aka COI as well. 

Megophrys nasuta (credit Joris van Alphen / Naturalis)
The plan is to use the genetic information to unravel relationships among the collected plants, fungi and animals. Relationships among the unique species on top of Borneo’s Mount Kinabalu will be compared to more widespread species on Borneo. This will answer the question whether these unique species have evolved long ago, or only recently. This will represent a follow up on Alfred R. Wallace who was the first to formulate a theory of evolution on Borneo.

Red mushroms
(Credit Luis Morgado / Naturalis)

For the fungi experts, the area was an Eldorado. The Hungarian mycologist J√≥zsef Geml says: “While the plant and animal life of this mountain has been the focus of numerous research projects, Kinabalu has remained terra incognita for scientific studies on fungi. It is difficult not to feel overwhelmed by this task. One of the manifestations of this diversity comes in the endless variety of shapes and colors that sometimes are truly breathtaking. While the detailed scientific work will take years, we already know that many of these species are new to science.

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