Washington, September 25, 2009 -- A bird-eating fanged frog, a gecko that looks like it’s from another planet and a bird that would rather walk than fly are among the 163 new species discovered in the Greater Mekong region last year that are now at risk of extinction due to climate change, says a new report launched by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) ahead of UN climate talks in Bangkok.
During 2008 alone, scientists identified these rare and unique species within the jungles and rivers of the Greater Mekong, including a bird-eating fanged frog that lies in streams waiting for prey, one of only four new species of musk shrew to be discovered in recent times, and a leopard gecko whose “other world” appearance – orange eyes, spindly limbs and technicolor skin – inspired the report’s title Close Encounters.
"These species have been in hiding for millennia and it’s finally their turn in the spotlight," said Dekila Chungyalpa, Director of WWF’s Greater Mekong Program. "Clearly there are many more incredible species to discover, which is why we should do everything possible to protect their habitats."
Close Encounters spotlights species newly identified by science including 100 plants, 28 fish, 18 reptiles, 14 amphibians, 2 mammals and a bird, all discovered in 2008 within the Greater Mekong region of Southeast Asia that spans Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and the south-western Chinese province of Yunnan.
The species were discovered by numerous scientists, including a mother-son team who made an important discovery of a tiger-striped pitviper by accident. "We were engrossed in trying to catch a new species of gecko when my son pointed out that my hand was on a rock mere inches away from the head of a pitviper," said Dr Lee Grismer of La Sierra University in California. “We caught the snake and the gecko and they both proved to be new species.”
The reluctant flyer, Nonggang Babbler, was observed walking longer distances than flying. It would only use its wings when frightened.
But no sooner are these new species discovered than their survival is threatened by the devastating impacts of climate change, the report warns.
Recent studies show the climate of the Greater Mekong region is already changing. Models suggest continued warming, increased variability and more frequent and damaging extreme climate events.
Rising seas and saltwater intrusion will cause major coastal impacts especially in the Mekong River delta, which is one of the three most vulnerable deltas on Earth, according to the most recent International Panel on Climate Change report.
"Some of these new species may be able to adapt to climate change but many will not, which could result in massive extinctions," Chungyalpa said. "Their habitats are already restricted and climate change will further shrink the areas in which they live."
Often these newly discovered species are highly dependent on a limited number of species for their survival. If they respond to climate change in a way that disrupts this closely evolved relationship it puts them at greater risk of extinction.
Over the next two weeks, government delegates will meet in Bangkok, Thailand, for the next round of UN climate change talks in the lead up to the Copenhagen Climate Summit this December, where the world is scheduled to agree on a new global climate treaty.
View photos and exclusive video of the new species at http://www.worldwildlife.org/close-encounters
Notes to the Editor
- To download footage of new species, landscapes, WWF fieldwork, new species photos and the full report, go to: http://www.divshare.com/folder/601590-bb7
- If in Southeast Asia or China, go to: http://www.divshare.com
- username: [email protected] and password: newsp
- WWF collaborates with many research institutions working across the region in the compilation of this new species discoveries report.
- The Close Encounters report is the second new species report on this region. The initial report First Contact was launched in December 2008 and revealed over 1000 new species discoveries in the Greater Mekong between 1997 and 2007.
- Sixteen of WWF’s Global 200 ecoregions, critical landscapes of international biological importance, are found in the Greater Mekong. These landscapes are home to rare Asian elephants and Indochinese tigers, and one of only two populations of Javan rhino in the world. In addition to rare populations of Irrawaddy dolphins, the Mekong River basin is estimated to house at least 1,300 species of fish, including the Mekong giant catfish, one of the largest freshwater fish in the world. By length, the Mekong is the richest waterway for biodiversity on the planet, fostering more species per unit area than the Amazon. Many of the species are endemic to the region.
- WWF is working with governments and industry of the six Greater Mekong nations to conserve and sustainably manage 600,000 km2 of transboundary forest and freshwater habitats in this unique and rapidly changing land.
- WWF supports the formulation of Asia’s first regional climate change adaptation agreement to provide a legal framework and mechanism for regional cooperation and coordination on climate change.