Protected Areas Under Threat
Meet the top 10 news species of 2018, selected by our Global Biodiversity Census partners at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.
“So many of these species — if we don’t find them, name them and describe them now — will be lost forever. And yet they can teach us so much about the intricacies of ecosystems and the details of evolutionary history. Each of them has found a way to survive against the odds of changing competition, climate and environmental conditions. So each can teach us something really worth knowing as we face an uncertain environmental future ourselves.” – SUNY ESF President Quentin Wheeler.
Protist (Ancoracysta twista)
Location: An aquarium in San Diego
Ancoracysta twista is a predatory flagellate that uses its whip-like flagella to propel itself and unusual harpoon-like organelles, called ancoracysts, to immobilize other protists on which it feeds. The geographic origin of the species in the wild is not known. It was found in a tropical aquarium at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography on a brain coral. The unusually large number of genes in its mitochondrial genome opens a window into the early evolution of eukaryotic organisms.
Atlantic forest tree (Dinizia jueirana-facao)
The legume genus Dinizia was known, until now, from a single Amazonian tree species, D. excelsa, discovered nearly 100 years ago. Dinizia jueirana-facao, up to 130 feet (40 m) in height, emerges above the canopy of the semi-deciduous, riparian, pristine Atlantic forest where it is found. This massive tree, weighing an estimated 62 tons (56,000 kg), is known from only 25 individuals, about half of which are in the protected area, making it critically endangered.
Amphipod (Epimeria Quasimodo)
Location: Antarctic Ocean
This amphipod, about 2 inches (50mm) in length, Epimeria quasimodo, is named for Victor Hugo’s character, Quasimodo the hunchback, in reference to its somewhat humped back. It is one of 26 new species of amphipods of the genus Epimeria from the Southern Ocean with incredible spines and vivid colors.
Baffling beetle (Nymphister kronaueri)
Location: Costa Rica
Nymphister kronaueri is a tiny beetle that lives among ants. At about 1.5 mm in length, 16 of them could line up head-to-tail in the space of an inch (2.5 cm). But their story gets much better. They live exclusively among one species of army ant, Eciton mexicanum. The beetle’s body is the precise size, shape and color of the abdomen of a worker ant. The beetle uses its mouthparts to grab the skinny portion of the host abdomen and hang on, letting the ant do the walking. At a glance, an ant with the beetle onboard appears to have two abdomens but the upper one is a beetle. Like other myrmecophiles (literally, ant lovers), these beetles must use chemical signals or other adaptations to avoid becoming prey themselves.
Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis)
Location: Sumatra, Indonesia
An international team of researchers, examining morphometric, behavioral, and genomic evidence, have concluded that an isolated population at the southern range limit of Sumatran orangutans, in Batang Toru, is distinct from both northern Sumatran and Bornean species. Genomic evidence suggests that while the northern Sumatra and Borneo species separated about 674 thousand years ago, this southern Sumatra species diverged much earlier, about 3.38 million years ago.
Swire’s snailfish (Pseudoliparis swirei)
Location: Western Pacific Ocean
In the dark abyss of the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific lies the deepest spot in the world’s oceans and the deepest-dwelling fish ever discovered with verified depth. Pseudoliparis swirei is a small, tadpole-like fish measuring a little over four inches in length (112 mm) yet appears to be the top predator in its benthic community at the bottom of this particularly deep sea. It was captured at depths between 22,000 and 26,000 feet (6,898 and 7,966 m).
Heterotrophic flower (Sciaphila sugimotoi)
Location: Ishigaki Island, Japan
Most plants are autotrophic, capturing solar energy to feed themselves by means of photosynthesis. A few, like the newly discovered S. sugimotoi, are heterotrophic, deriving their sustenance from other organisms. In this case, the plant is symbiotic with a fungus from which it derives nutrition without harm to the partner. The species is considered critically endangered. As with other fungal symbionts, the species depends on a stable ecosystem for survival.
Volcanic bacterium (Thiolava veneris)
Location: Canary Islands
When the submarine volcano Tagoro erupted off the coast of El Hierro in the Canary Islands in 2011, it abruptly increased water temperature, decreased oxygen and released massive quantities of carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide, wiping out much of the existing marine ecosystem. Three years later, scientists found the first colonizers of this newly deposited area — a new species of proteobacteria producing long, hair-like structures composed of bacterial cells within a sheath.
Marsupial lion (Wakaleo schouteni)
In the late Oligocene, which ended about 23 million years ago, a marsupial lion, Wakaleo schouteni, roamed Australia’s open forest habitat in northwestern Queensland, stalking its prey. Weighing in at about 50 pounds, more or less the size of a Siberian husky dog, this predator spent part of its time in trees. Its teeth suggest that it was an omnivore not completely reliant on meat.
Cave beetle (Xuedytes bellus)
A new species of troglobitic ground beetle from China, less than half an inch in length (about 9 mm), is striking in the dramatic elongation of its head and prothorax, the body segment immediately behind the head to which the first pair of legs attach.