A new species of fish, so tiny that it ranks as the worlds second smallestvertebrate, was discovered this year in Borneo’s acidic blackwater peat swamps.Threatened by habitat destruction, this fish is just one of 52 new species ofanimals and plants that scientists identified on the southeast Asian island.
The discoveries, described in a new report by the global conservationorganization WWF, include 30 unique fish species, two tree frogs, 16 gingerspecies, and three new species of trees.
“The more we look the more we find,” said Stuart Chapman, WWFinternational coordinator of the Heart of Borneo Programme. “Thesediscoveries reaffirm Borneos position as one of the most important centers ofbiodiversity in the world.”
The Heart of Borneo is a 220,000 square kilometer mountainous region coveredwith equatorial rainforest in the center of the island.
“These forests are also vital because they are the source of most of theislands major rivers, and act as a natural “fire-break” against thefires that have ravaged the lowlands this year,” Chapman said.
WWF warns that the habitat where these plants and animals have thrivedundiscovered for millions of years is at increasing risk.
Conservationists have been warning for years that Borneo could lose almostall its lowland forest and that the need to conserve the habitat and species ofthe worlds third largest island is urgent.
Large areas of Borneo’s rainforest are being cleared for rubber, oil palm andpulp production. Today, WWF estimates, only half of Borneo’s original forestcover remains.
“The remote and inaccessible forests in the Heart of Borneo are one of theworlds final frontiers for science and many new species continue to bediscovered here. We are just waiting for the next surprise,” said Chapman.
The new creatures found between July 2005 and September 2006 include acatfish with an adhesive belly which allows it to stick to rocks and maintainits position in turbulent waters. Discovered within the Heart of Borneo in theKapuas River system, in the province of West Kalimantan, Indonesia, thesecatfish inhabit fast flowing clear streams with beds made of gravel, cobbles orlarge rocks.
Six new species of Siamese fighting fish were found in the freshwaters ofBorneo. Three were found in the Kapuas River basin at Kalimantan Barat in theHeart of Borneo. The other three were found in other Kalimantan provinces.
The miniature new fish species, Paedocypris micromegethes, is translucent incolor and together with its slightly smaller cousin P. progenetica found onSumatra, measuring 7.9 mm, represent the two smallest vertebrates known toscience.
This fish is native to the very acidic, threatened, blackwater peat swamps ofSoutheast Asia, and was found only in shaded forested areas, not in lightexposed open areas.
Habitat destruction jeopardizes the survival of these fishes. Thestructurally complex peat swamp forests are disappearing quickly in SoutheastAsia, due to logging, urbanization and conversion for agricultural use,especially oil palm plantations and shrimp farms.
Peat swamp forests paid a high toll to the forest fires of Sumatra and Borneoin 1997, which lasted for several months. Many of the peat swamps this recentresearch surveyed throughout Southeast Asia no longer exist and their fauna iseradicated. All the endemic fish species that inhabit the peat swamp forests ofBorneo are endangered.
A tree frog with bright green eyes was discovered within the Heart of Borneo,at Gunung Murid Sarawak, the highest mountain in the state of Sarawak, innorthwestern Borneo. The species, Polypedates chlorophthalmus, is named for itsstrikingly colored eyes, its name coming from the Greek for green eyed.
For plants, the ginger discoveries more than double the entire number of theEtlingera species found to date,
The known trees of Borneo have been expanded by three new tree species of thegenus Beilschmiedia. Beilschmiedia species exhibit long erect trichomes on twigs,six to ten pairs of secondary leaf veins, and large pale red flowers.
One of the tree species, Beilschmiedia oligantha, was originally discoveredin July 1979 but only described as a new species in July 2005. The plant wasfound in Kapit, in Sarawak Malaysia within the Heart of Borneo boundary.
Map of Southeast Asia showing the location of Borneo. (Map courtesyCIA World Factbook)
Similarly, Beilschmiedia crassa was discovered in Sarawak in March 1970 in theKalabit Highlands, Bario and also in Kapit, both locations within the Heart ofBorneo boundary. Beilschmiedia microcarpa was discovered in March 1977 in avariety of locations in North Borneo, and in East Kalimantan – some within theHeart of Borneo boundary. These two species were only described to science inJuly 2006.
In addition to these new species found or described since July 2005, at least361 new species have been described from Borneo between 1994 and 2004 – 260insects, 30 freshwater fish, seven frogs, six lizards, five crabs, two snakesand a toad and 50 new plant species.
At a meeting of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity held last March inCuritiba, Brazil, the three Bornean governments – Brunei Darussalam, Indonesiaand Malaysia – declared their commitment to support an initiative to conserveand sustainably manage the Heart of Borneo.
Conservationists now hope that they will finalize a formal joint declarationto put the Heart of Borneo on the their list of top conservation priorities.