Gene Blythe/AP
A rare baby Arakan forest turtle is shown at Zoo Atlanta Tuesday, May 1, 2007 in Atlanta. In May
2009, Texas and New York researchers discovered five Arakan forest turtles in a Myanmar forest.

Fascination Surrounds Different Species' Evolution and Decline

September 14, 2009 08:00 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
Exciting new and evolved species have recently been discovered in Papua New Guinea and Myanmar, while other species have drastically diminished in British Columbia, highlighting the challenges facing conservationists.

Communication Is Key to Conservation

Fanged frogs and tree-dwelling kangaroos are two of the more than 40 new species discovered by scientists in a remote crater in Papua New Guinea, Robert Booth reports in The Guardian. A team of British, American and Papua New Guinean researchers trekked into the half-mile deep Mount Bosavi cavity and spent five weeks in the untouched jungle, which has been isolated since Bosavi's last eruption 200,000 years ago.

According to Booth, the researchers included "experts from Oxford University, the London Zoo and the Smithsonian Institution," and are hopeful that their discoveries will reinforce international interest in conservation of other richly diverse, pristine habitats; rainforest in Papua New Guinea is deteriorating by 3.5 percent every year. The BBC Natural History Unit filmed the scientists' trek and included the footage in a three-part documentary.

Getting the word out about new and evolved species is perhaps as crucial as discovery itself. When he learned that Texas and New York researchers discovered five Arakan forest turtles in a Myanmar forest, freshwater turtle expert Douglas B. Hendrie told Michael Casey of the Associated Press that bringing attention to the turtles is "an important part of furthering the aims of conservation."

The Arakan Forest Turtle

The Arakan turtles were spotted in May by Steven Platt, a researcher from Texas who was conducting a wildlife survey in the Rakhine Yoma Elephant Sanctuary with a team from the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, according to Casey. Arakan turtles are endemic to western Myanmar's Arakan hills, but were considered extinct until the mid-1990s when Asian food markets began selling them. Scientists say the Arakan turtles almost disappeared because of "their popularity in Asia as an ingredient in cooking and medicine."

View photos of Arakan forest turtles on ARKive, a site devoted to "images of life on earth." The gentle turtles appear spotted in shades of tan and black, and are found "in evergreen, deciduous and bamboo forests, usually near permanent and intermittent streams," according to the site.

ARKive explains that "virtually nothing is known about this species in the wild" because of its "only relatively recent rediscovery." The Arakan turtle is listed as protected in Myanmar, and "two large areas ... have been proposed for official protected status." Meanwhile, the captive population "acts as an insurance population that buffers against total extinction."

Background: How species evolve

Teachers' Domain, an online portal for teachers with content from several reputable educational outlets including PBS, has a two-part lesson plan on "How New Species Evolve." In the plan, students visit recommended Web sites and utilize multimedia features to gain an understanding of "the difference between allopatric and sympatric speciation."

Related Topic: Salmon and grizzlies

The situation along the central coast of British Columbia exemplifies the challenges facing conservationists. According to Mark Hume in The Globe and Mail, "a collapse of salmon runs has triggered widespread death from starvation of black and grizzly bears," a situation that ecotourism guides and conservationists are calling "an unfolding ecological disaster."

The problem starts with chum salmon runs; chum are much larger salmon that "spawn later in the year" and serve as bears' main source of food prior to hibernation. Chum salmon runs "have collapsed," leaving bears without "enough fat to survive the winter in their dens," Hume reported.

Additionally, the sockeye salmon population in the Fraser River near Vancouver has dropped from 10.6 million to less than 1 million, according to Rod Nickel of Reuters.

Scientists are not sure why the sockeye are disappearing, particularly because the Fraser River has been closed to commercial and recreational fishermen for three years. Nickel outlines three possible reasons: reduced food supply due to climate change, sea lice and rising river temperatures.

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