New to science: plants, animals and microbes that have ‘found a way to survive against the odds’
The large and small, beautiful and bizarre are among the newly discovered animals, plants and microbes announced by ESF as the Top 10 New Species for 2018.
The large is a majestic tree that towers up to 130 feet (40 m); among the small is a tiny, single-celled protist. The list of science’s best discoveries includes a rare great ape and the fossil of a marsupial lion that roamed Australia in the late Oligocene Epoch. There are also two residents of the world’s oceans – a fish from the depths of the Pacific Ocean and a bright amphipod from the chilly waters of the Antarctic Ocean.
The 11th annual list, compiled by ESF’s International Institute for Species Exploration (IISE), also includes a beetle that looks like part of an ant, a plant that partners with a fungus, a bacterium that looks like hair and a beetle that resides in the dark and has an interesting evolutionary story.
In addition to the two ocean dwellers, the new species hail from countries around the globe: Brazil, Costa Rica, Sumatra in Indonesia, the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean, Japan, Australia and China. And one was found in an aquarium in the United States – its origin in the wild is not known.
The first list was compiled in 2008.
“I’m constantly amazed at how many new species show up and the range of things that are discovered,” said ESF President Quentin Wheeler, the founding director of the IISE.
Wheeler and the IISE issue the list each year as a lesson in the value of species exploration and biodiversity.
“We name about 18,000 per year but we think at least 20,000 per year are going extinct. … So many of these species – if we don’t find them, name them and describe them now – will be lost forever. And yet they can teach us so much about the intricacies of ecosystems and the details of evolutionary history. Each of them has found a way to survive against the odds of changing competition, climate and environmental conditions. So each can teach us something really worth knowing as we face an uncertain environmental future ourselves.”
Wheeler puts responsibility for the rate of extinctions squarely on humans.
“At this stage, it’s us. People are altering habitats and changing the climate,” he said. “As inconvenient as it might be to adapt to climate change with our crops and relocate cities in the most extreme scenarios, what we can’t do is bring back species once they’re gone.”
The institute’s international committee of taxonomists selects the Top 10 from among the approximately 18,000 new species named the previous year. The list is made public around May 23 to recognize the birthday of Carolus Linnaeus, an 18th century Swedish botanist who is considered the father of modern taxonomy.