News Commentary

Luzon has the world's greatest concentration of unique mammal species

Alixandra Caole Vila - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines - Looking for the most amazing and most unique mammalian species in the world? Look no further. Philippines's very own Luzon has recently been hailed as the island with the highest concentration of endemic mammals.

Luzon which spans a total of 103,000 square kilometers in size is the largest island in the Philippine archipelago.

After conducting a 15-year study of Luzon's native mammals, Filipino and American researchers, revealed 56 newly discovered mammal species, excluding bats. Ninety-three percent or 52 of the total number are found nowhere else. This surpasses the number of mammalian species found in England and Madagascar which are much bigger islands than Luzon.

“At the time we started our study on Luzon in 2000, only 28 species were known from Luzon, by the time the project ended, the number doubled to 56 species,” said Lawrence Heaney, lead researcher of the study and a Negaunee Curator of Mammals at The Field Museum in Chicago, in a press release.

“Out of the 56 species of non-flying mammal species, 52 live nowhere else in the world. Of those 56 species, 28 were discovered between 2000 and 2015. Nineteen have been formally described while nine more are in the process of being formally named. These are truly staggering figures, equivalent to discovering almost 2 species of mammals per year, unequalled anywhere else in the world," he added.

Included in their discovery are four species of tiny tree-mice with whiskers that extend to their ankles and five species of mice that feed on earthworms.

According to the study, the plethora of rare species can be attributed to the fact that Luzon is an isolated island and that it has never been connected to another chunk of land since it existed.

Its isolation has resulted to a natural laboratory that paved way to natural selection, special adaptations and successful breeding of endemic species.

The new discovery adds more pressure to strengthen the conservation efforts of the Philippines, one of the most heavily deforested countries in the world.

With rapid urbanization talking place in the Philippines, especially in the metro where 23 million people compete for space, a call to protect all the animal species occupying the country becomes louder than it has ever been.

"Protecting all of these species from extinction is going to be a big challenge. The good news is that when the native forest is allowed to regenerate, the native mammals move back in, and the pest rats get kicked out," said Danny Balete, a Filipino Research Associate at the Field Museum based in the Philippines.

Two co-authors of the paper are researchers from the Biodiversity Research Laboratory, Institute of Biology, University of the Philippines Diliman (BRL, UP Biology), Mariano Roy M. Duya and Melizar V. Duya. Mariano is also a UP teaching fellow while Melizar is a senior biologist from the Diliman Science Research Foundation (DSRF).

The study titled "Doubling diversity: a cautionary tale of previously unsuspected mammalian diversity on a tropical oceanic island" was published in the journal Frontiers of Biogeography,

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