52 New Species Found in Borneo, Report Announces

John Roach
for National Geographic News
December 19, 2006
A miniature fish, a tree frog with bright green eyes, and a catfish with
a sticky belly are among 52 new species discovered within the past year
in Borneo, according to a report released today.

The Southeast Asian island is shared by Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei (Malaysia map showing Borneo).

Borneo is the world's third largest island and home to some of the last pristine wildernesses in the world, says the international conservation group WWF.

The island's newfound species include 30 fish, 2 tree frogs, 16 ginger plants, 3 trees, and a large-leafed plant.

"I have no reason to doubt we will continue adding new species [from Borneo]," said Mark Wright, science advisor for Surrey, England-based WWF-UK, which released the report.

"In the last ten years we've been finding three new species every month, month after month," he added.

(Related photo: "'Chameleon' Snake Found in Borneo Forest" [June 27, 2006].)

Wright explained that Borneo, like South America's Amazon Basin and Africa's Congo Basin, lies in the equatorial belt, which is known for rich tropical biodiversity.

Borneo's geography is also extremely diverse, making for hundreds of unique habitats that house unique creatures adapted to these niches. Many of the new species are isolated to a single river or a side of a mountain, for example.

Amazing Species

A 0.35-inch-long (8.8-millimeter-long) fish called Paedocypris micromegethes was found in the island's acidic backwater peat swamps.

The translucent fish is the second smallest vertebrate, or animal with a backbone, in the world, scientists said. It's beat only by its even smaller cousin in Sumatra, P. progenetica, which measures 0.31 inch (7.9 millimeters) long.

The island's freshwater streams are home to six new species of Siamese fighting fish, each with distinctive colors and markings.

A catfish called Glyptothorax exodon has an adhesive belly that allows it to stick to rocks in the turbulent waters of the Kapuas River system.

The newfound ginger plants more than double the number of the attractive and diverse Etlingera species found to date. Ginger roots are used around the world as food, spice, medicine, and decoration.

But, Wright said, the discovery of three new tree species is what really puts the wealth of Borneo's biodiversity into perspective.

"One fish the size of a fingernail can hide away. Trees don't move and they are really big—and we are still finding those," he said. "Heaven knows what else is there."

Call to Conservation

Since 1996 Indonesia has lost an average of nine million acres (two million hectares) of forest a year. Today only half of Borneo's original forest cover remains, according to WWF.

(Related news: "Orangutans Displaced, Killed by Indonesian Forest Fires" [November 17, 2006].)

Wright said that Borneo's lowland forests are primarily cleared for oil palm plantations. In the mountains the rain forests are rich in coal seams, and several mining companies already hold access rights.

Many of the species were discovered in an 85,000-square-mile (220,000-square-kilometer) mountain rain forest in a central region of the island that conservationists call the Heart of Borneo.

The region is increasingly pressured by human development, so WWF is working with local officials in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei to develop a series of protected areas and sustainably managed forests.

Stuart Chapman, international coordinator WWF's Heart of Borneo Program, said in a media statement: "The remote and inaccessible forests in the Heart of Borneo are one of the world's final frontiers for science."

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