New Blood: New species discovered in the Greater Mekong

145 new species were described by science in the Greater Mekong during 2009, including 96 plants, 26 fish, 6 amphibians, 10 reptiles, 5 mammals and 2 birds.


 

This is the third in a series of WWF reports highlighting new species discoveries in the Greater Mekong, reaffirming the region as one of the most significant biological hotspots on the planet.
The report says while these discoveries highlight the Greater Mekong’s immense biodiversity it also pinpoints the fragility of this region’s diverse habitats and species. The likely local extinction of the Javan rhino in Vietnam is one tragic indicator of the decline of biodiversity in recent times.

The report highlights the opportunity for governments of the Greater Mekong to use financing through the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the global financing mechanism for the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, to leverage large-scale resources to conserve species, biodiversity and healthy ecosystems across the region.

“Biodiversity is not evenly distributed around the globe. These new species are a timely reminder of the extraordinary biodiversity in the Greater Mekong,” said Mr Chapman. “Therefore a greater allocation of funds is needed to ensure these valuable ecosystems are conserved.”

This report was launched ahead of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, Japan, October 2010.
 / ©: WWF Greater Mekong
New Blood new species report front cover.
© WWF Greater Mekong

Bare-face bulbul

Where was it discovered?
First seen by scientists over 15 years ago, the Bare-Faced Bulbul has evaded discovery due to its remote location and seemingly outrageous appearance.

It is only known to live in the sparse, deciduous forest on limestone karsts in central Laos, where it was originally discovered. If the Bare-Faced Bulbul is only found in central Laos, it would be the country’s only endemic bird species discovered.

The bird’s distinctive appearance suggests that, if other populations do exist, we would have found them by now!

Why is it unique?
It is the only bald songbird in Asia. It lacks feathering on the face and the side of the head, and has extensive pale blue skin on the rear of the head and around the eyes. It is the first discovery of bulbul in Asia in over a century!
 / ©: Iain Woxvold
The Bare-faced Bulbul (Pycnonotus hualon) is the only known species of bald song bird in Asia.
© Iain Woxvold

Cricket-chirping frog

Where was it discovered?
First encountered in the Quang Nam Province of Vietnam, the new frog species Leptolalax applebyi. All specimens of this species were also found at the headwaters of rocky streams in evergreen forests over 1,300 m in elevation, indicating that as their primary range.

Why is it unique?
It was not seen but rather heard, making a faint call that sounded like a cricket.

According to the principle discoverer, “everyone on the trip was convinced the faint rasping noise coming from the leaf litter was a cricket, and I wasn’t sure at all. After recording the call, I began to hunt for whatever was making the noise - insect or frog - and after maybe 5 minutes on searching through the leaf litter, I was pretty convinced myself that it was a cricket after all. Shortly after that, I found the tiny brown frog hidden in the leaf litter.”
 / ©: Jodi Rowley
Cricket-chirping frog (Leptolalax applebyi)
© Jodi Rowley

Dracula Fish

Where was it discovered?

In a small stream in Myanmar.


Why is it unique?

It has fangs protruding at the front of each jaw. Although the evolutionary cause of these fangs is unknown, they appear to be part of the skeleton of fish in the species Danionella dracula.

Danionella dracula was selected as one of “The Top 10 New Species” described in 2009 by The International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University and an international committee of taxonomists.
 / ©: Natural History Museum, London
Dracula fish (Danionella Dracula) is one of the 145 species newly described by science in the Greater Mekong during 2009.
© Natural History Museum, London

Giant carnivorous Pitcher plant

Where was it discovered?
The species was found on Bokor Hill in southern Cambodia, and tends to occur in seasonally wet upland scrub.

Why is it unique?
While walking through a forest of greenery, this plant is a sight to behold. With a climbing length of up to 7m, this species produces pitchers that are a green with accents of a startling shade of bright red. The pitchers alone can be up to 25cm in length, and are used to trap ants and other insects, which are then broken down to provide nourishment to the plant.

The plant also has broad green leaves, yellow stems, and faint purple blotching all over. The root of this plant has traditionally been boiled and given to pregnant women to ease their pains.

About the Greater Mekong

The Greater Mekong contains some of the richest and most biologically diverse habitats on our planet.
Its vast forests and wetlands harbour some of the world's rarest species including Asian elephants, tigers, Javan rhinos, Irrawaddy dolphin and some of the world's most rare animals, such as the elusive Saola.

River of giants

At the heart of the region, is the Mekong river. Winding 4,800 kms through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam it is home to over 1100 species of fish including the world's largest:

  • the Giant freshwater stingray (Himantura chaophraya) weighing up to 600kg
  • and the culturally fabled Mekong giant catfish (Pangasianodon gigas) weighing up to 350kg

Today, the Greater Mekong region is rolling out an economic plan of unprecedented scale.

While this development is necessary to improve the lives of millions of people in the region, if they are not planned sustainably it could create serious and irreversible problems, particularly now in the face of climate change.

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