52 New Species Found in Borneo, Report Announces

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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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