'Extraordinary' number of species discovered
By Paul Eccleston, Telegraph Media Group
Last Updated: 7:01pm BST 05/06/2007
Scientists exploring remote South American rainforests have found 24 species previously unknown to science.
They include a remarkable two-tone frog with purple fluorescent hoop markings.
The team also found four other new frog species, six species of fish, 12 dung beetles and a new species of ant.
The discovery of so many species outside the insect realm is considered extraordinary and underlined the need to survey little-known regions, said Leeanne Alonso of Conservation International, which led the 13-strong group of scientists which found the new species.
"When you go to these places that are so unexplored and so remote, we do tend to find new species... but most of them are insects," she said.
"What's really exciting here is we found a lot of new species of frogs and fish as well."
The previously unknown creatures were discovered in the Nassau plateau and Lely Mountains region about 80 miles southeast of Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname. It included areas with enough clean fresh water sources to support abundant fish and amphibians.
Suriname and its neighbours Guyana, French Guiana and northern Brazil, on the Guayana Shield are home to the largest expanse of undisturbed tropical rain forest on the planet. Nearly 20 per cent of the world's water runs through the region.
They also found 27 species native to the Guayana Shield region.
One was the rare armoured catfish, (Harttiella crassicauda) which conservationists feared was extinct after gold miners contaminated a creek where it was last seen 50 years ago.
The results of a 2005 expedition confirmed in a 2006 follow-up survey were revealed yesterday.
Including the new species, the scientists observed a total of 467 species at two sites, ranging from large cats like panthers and pumas, to monkeys, reptiles, bats and insects.
"This is a totally unexplored area: lots of new species, with many more still to be found, Our study will be a vital component in determining how to promote economic development while protecting the nation's most valuable natural assets," said Leeanne Alonso.
While the places are remote and far from human civilization, they are totally unprotected and Suriname's pristine forests are increasingly threatened by small-scale, illegal gold mining. If the mining is uncontrolled it can damage fragile ecosystems by degrading water quality within the region's extensive system of rivers, streams, and reservoirs.
"Where current economic imperatives dictate mining, our responsibility is to ensure that operations are kept within the bounds of our benchmarks," says Conservation International's Suriname Executive Director Ambassador Willem Udenhout.
The expedition which found the new species was sponsored by two mining companies in partnership with Conservation International. They have agreed to fund follow up research aimed at protecting Suriname's rich diversity.