Top 10 New Species Highlight Scientific Knowledge and Threats of Extinction

May 23, 2016

What do a giant tortoise, a carnivorous plant and the fossil remains of ancient apes have in common?  They're all on the Top Ten List of New Species put out by the SUNY E-S-F International Institute for Species Exploration.   

 SUNY ESF President Doctor Quentin Wheeler has seen up-close the Galapagos Tortoise added to this year’s list. 

“They are just amazing animals, just beautiful beyond belief.  And they’re so symbolic of Darwin’s work.  To find a new species of Giant Galapagos Tortoise at this date is [pretty amazing.  It just shows how much more work there is to be done.”

In the spirit of Darwin, Wheeler says the value of identifying new species is to understand more about human evolution and our environment

“Whether you’re concerned about climate change or land conversion as humans cut down forests and replace it with pasture lands, all these factors are diminishing the number of species.  But because we don’t know what’s there to begin with we can’t measure the rate at which species are disappearing.  Were at a disadvantage to recognize invasive species when they arrive because we don’t know all the ones here to begin with.”

The Top Ten list hopes to raise awareness…Some of the other entries are rare.  The giant sundew is found only on the summit of one mountain  in Brazil...and was identified through social media

“It was discovered through a picture posted on Facebook...and so suddenly social media is becoming a new scientific tool.” 

Wheeler notes others are versions of animals were familiar with, such as the new Sea Dragon

“Most of us are fairly familiar with sea horses and these are similar.  These things are ten inches or so, which is a pretty good sized animal, and bright red.  And if you can overlook a ten-inch thing that looks like a dragon that’s fire red in color, it always leads me to think what else haven’t I seen.” 

NEW SPECIES TELL US MORE AND MORE ABOUT OURSELVES

Other entries are much more closely related to humans…such as newly identified fossil remains of a five-foot tall hominid with human-like characteristics. 

“What’s really interesting is this mixture of characteristics.  It has a much smaller brain case f humans, yet has roughly the stature.  The way it seemed to walk and chew its food and so forth were similar to humans in many ways.  So it’s the old argument about missing links in a sense, in that you can see not everything that makes us human evolved all at once.”

Around 18-thousand new species were identified last year.  Wheeler says taxonomists estimate only about a fifth of all species on earth have been described and named.  Climate changes and habitat loss are thought to be wiping out about the same number of species as are being discovered each year.