Herpatofauna conservation studies - Photo Courtesy of Frontier Madagascar Forest
There are approximately 1,700,000 species currently known to science, and rates of species discoveries are elevating as a result of the availability of heightened scientific techniques. Scientists have this week discovered a new gecko species located on the Admirality Islands, Papua New-Guinea, and further assessment of this specimen will provide novel scientific knowledge.
In 2011 it was predicted that only 24% of all terrestrial species and 9% of marine species had been discovered. New discoveries in the depths of oceans or thermal springs represent exclusively distinct ecosystems, potentially holding a host of unclassified species. Advancements in molecular genetics has resulted in the redefinition of many species, causing the ‘clumping’ or ‘splitting’ of genera as new knowledge is ascertained. Organisms similar in appearance are increasingly being found to have genetically and evolutionarily distinct origins, thus consistently altering our taxonomic awareness. It is therefore apparent that extinction rates may be heavily underestimated, and thus an alarmingly higher amount of species may have been lost prior to their discovery than previously thought.
The Nactus genus has recently increased in size with a new addition, as a newly identified species has been recognised. Genetic assessment and scale patterns have confirmed that the gecko measuring 14cm in length is in fact a distinct organism. The specimen’s distinct colouring provides indication in itself for the species independence, and its vivid black and yellow colouration has resulted in its classification of Nactus kunan - the term for bumblebee in the local language - Nali. The evolutionary status of the Nactus genus is more perplexing than originally perceived and therefore further studies on herpetofauna in the region will be essential for future understanding. The ecology and habitat range of the organism can now be assessed, with only 2 specimens obtained at an elevation of 200m. Further research is vital for understanding the specimen’s role within the forest ecosystem.
The status of Nactus kunan is unknown and therefore research into the impacts of human disturbance will be an important step for the protection of this novel organism. Frontier is currently conducting essential research into herpetofauna communities in both Madagascar and Cambodia which volunteers can participate in. Projects in Cambodia are seeking to assess the effects of human impacts and forest degradation on populations of many reptiles and amphibians in the hope that protection can be better implemented for the future.
By Laura Burton