Over 400 new mammal species have been named since 1993


Hopefully it is well known that we still have a lot to learn about the planet's extant macrofauna. And, by 'macrofauna', I'm not talking about nematodes, molluscs or insects but, yes, about such things as mammals. In fact, on mammals specifically, discovery rates indicate that we really should expect the discovery of new species for a long while yet. In a new article in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Ceballos & Ehrlich (2009) bring attention to the fact that 408 new mammal species (representing about 10% of the total mammal species inventory and belonging to 18 traditional 'orders') have been named since 1993. What, they ask, does this mean for our understanding of biodiversity, and for conservation and management?

Ceballos & Ehrlich (2009) are not, of course, the first to point out that new mammals are 'not so seldom' (Pine 1994): you might know this because, well, you already know it (Heuvelmans 1983, Patterson 2000, 2001, Shuker 2002, Collen et al. 2004), or you might know it because I've mentioned it at Tet Zoo many times. While 60% of the 408 new mammals are cryptic species (those formerly included within another species, and later elevated to species status following genetic analysis or a re-evaluation of how much variation is tolerable within a species), the other 40% are not. This 40% is where we find the really exciting, distinctive new animals: Ceballos & Ehrlich (2009) mention the Saola Pseudoryx nghetinhensis [shown above], Giant muntjac Megamuntiacus vuquangensis [shown below], Kipunji Rungwecebus kipunji, the pygmy sloth Bradypus pygmaeus, Maues marmoset Callithrix mauesi*, Solomons islands monkey-faced bat Pteralopex taki, the Brazilian phyllostomid bat Xeronycteris vieirai and the Peruvian chinchilla rat Cuscomys ashaninka as among the neatest of such.


* Ceballos & Ehrlich (2009) incorrectly refer to this as 'a white titi monkey' (p. 3841). Titi monkeys Callicebus are altogether different from marmosets and are not part of the same group.

How have such new species been discovered? The 'exploration of new regions has been the main factor for the discovery of as much as 40% of the new species' (p. 3843): this goes for Amazonian monkeys, rodents from the Philippines, hoofed mammals, rodents and rabbits from south-east Asia, and specific examples such as the Arunachal macaque Macaca munzala [shown below] from north-east India and the Grey-faced sengi Rhynchocyon udzungwensis from Tanzania. Despite the assumption that modern discoveries of new species might rely on cutting-edge technology, in virtually all of these cases, discovery was made in the old-fashioned way. The respective biologists went into a new area, looked around, recorded what they saw, and found new stuff. In some cases (I'm thinking here of the Kipunji and Leaf deer Muntiacus putaoensis) they spoke to local people and heard about animals that later turned out to be both real, and new. Only in the case of the Grey-faced sengi did new technology (camera traps) play a direct role in discovery. However, note that a few other possible new mammal species have been documented by camera-traps (e.g., the brocket reported by Trolle & Emmons (2004)).


What sorts of mammals are involved?

Ceballos & Ehrlich (2009) then looked at how the new mammal species are distributed phylogenetically: are some groups yielding more species than others and, if so, why? Unsurprisingly, the occurrence of new species is not random, but shows a strong correlation with total species richness. In other words, big groups yield more new species than do small groups. Even so, primates, bats, rodents and marsupials all score surprisingly highly, while lipotyphlans*, artiodactyls and carnivorans all score lower than expected.

* The author refer to members of this group as soricomorphs. I think this is because they needed to make it clear that they were not including tenrecs (which are afrotherians) along with shrews and moles. Tenrecs score highly in terms of numbers of post-1993 species, shrews and kin do not (despite 21 post-1993 shrew species and one mole!).

The poor score that artiodactyls get is slightly surprising given the number of new muntjacs named in recent years (all from south-east Asia). In fact 11 post-1993 artiodactyls are listed by Ceballos & Ehrlich (2009), but this is still not a significantly high figure compared to total species richness. You might think that this taxonomic bias relates directly to body size (that is, we find more rodents because rodents are mostly small and hence better at escaping attention than carnivorans or artiodactyls), but this is not clear and in fact there are some indications that it is not the most important factor. Body size might even be downright unimportant in fact, as many of the post-1993 mammals are relatively large-bodied members of their groups. Might the comparatively low numbers of new artiodactyls and carnivorans mean that these groups have been more intensively studied than have primates, rodents or marsupials? That's an interesting question that would require further research [Leaf deer shown below].


Conservation, predictions, and the future

Finally, the authors looked at the distribution of the post-1993 species and examined what this might mean for conservation and anthropogenic threat. 81% of the new species have restricted ranges of less than 10,000 square km, hence making them theoretically prone to extinction. However, while 24% of the areas inhabited by the new species are affected by agriculture and human population, 61% of the areas inhabited by the post-1993 species 'have relatively little anthropogenic threat'. The take-home point is that a proportion of the new species are in small areas directly threatened by spreading agriculture and population, but that not all are.

The fact that so many new mammals have been found in recent years leads Ceballos & Ehrlich (2009) to conclude that other groups of animals, many of which are less well studied than mammals (and generally always more speciose), 'likely contain many more species than are currently described' (p. 3843). The authors also note that many species have likely gone extinct without our knowledge, and they speculate that extinction rates have therefore been grossly underestimated.


Given the implication inherent to this study (viz, that much yet remains to be found), what is going to come next? Perissodactyls were not included in the Ceballos & Ehrlich (2009) dataset, but future publications might mean that they should be (hint hint). Sirenians were not either, but if Marc van Roosmalen is right about the species-level status of his new manatee Trichechus bernhardi [shown here], they should be too. A large number of new primates are currently in the process of being named (mostly from Madagascar and Amazonia), so we can be confident that members of this group will continue to rank highly in the species discovery data for a while. Judging by recent finds (e.g., Pearsonomys annectans Patterson, 1992, Salinomys delicatus Braun & Mares, 1995, Chibchanomys orcesi Jenkins & Barnett, 1997, Pteralopex taki Parnaby, 2002, Laonastes aenigmamus Jenkins et al, 2005, Xeronycteris vieirai Gregorin & Ditchfield, 2005, Styloctenium mindorensis Esselstyn, 2007) weird bats and rodents will also continue to appear for a long while yet.

As stated earlier, it is not news to mammalogists, or to zoologists or biologists in general, that new, often large mammals are still regularly found, and that more remain to be found. Nevertheless it remains surprising and counter-intuitive to many: we should, I argue, bring attention to it as often as possible.

For previous articles on recently discovered mammal species see...

UPDATE: as pointed out below by Erich Fitzgerald, two other recent papers have also covered the issue of recently described mammal diversity and should be consulted by anyone interested: Reeder et al. (2007) and Schipper et al. (2008).

Refs - -

Ceballos, G. & Ehrlich, P. R. 2009. Discoveries of new mammal species and their implications for conservation and ecosystem services. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106, 3841-3846.

Collen, B., Purvis, A. & Gittleman, J. L. 2004. Biological correlates of description dates in carnivores and primates. Global Ecology and Biogeography 13, 459-467.

Heuvelmans, B. 1983. How many animal species remain to be discovered? Cryptozoology 2, 1-24.

Patterson, B. D. 2000. Patterns and trends in the discovery of new Neotropical mammals. Diversity and Distributions 6, 145-151.

- . 2001. Fathoming tropical biodiversity: the continuing discovery of Neotropical mammals. Diversity and Distributions 7, 191-196.

Pine, R. H. 1994. New mammals not so seldom. Nature 368, 593.

Reeder, D. M., Helgen, K. M. & Wilson, D. E. 2007. Global trends and biases in new mammal species discoveries. Occasional Papers, Museum of Texas Tech University 269, 1-35.

Schipper, J., Chanson, J. S., Chiozza, F., Cox, N. A., Hoffmann, M., Katariya, V., Lamoreux, J., Rodrigues, A. S. L., Stuart, S. N., Temple, H. J., Baillie, J., Boitani, L., Lacher, T. E., Jr., Mittermeier, R. A., Smith, A. T., Absolon, D., Aguiar, J. M., Amori, G., Bakkour, N., Baldi, R., Berridge, R. J., Bielby, J., Black, P. A., Blanc, J. J., Brooks, T. M., et al. 2008. The status of the world's land and marine mammals: diversity, threat, and knowledge. Science 322, 225-230.

Shuker, K. P. N. 2002. The New Zoo. House of Stratus, Thirsk, North Yorkshire.

Trolle, M. & Emmons, L. H. 2004. A record of a dwarf brocket from Madre de Dios, Peru. Deer Specialist Group Newsletter 19, 2-5.

More like this

The author refer to members of this group as soricomorphs. I think this is because they needed to make it clear that they were not including tenrecs (which are afrotherians) along with shrews and moles.

I think it's because they follow the taxonomy of Wilson & Reeder's Mammal Species of the World (2005), where Soricomorpha (=shrews, moles, and solenodons) is a different order not only from the various afrotheres, but also from Erinaceomorpha (=hedgehogs and gymnures).

Incidentally, in their supplementary information, Ceballos & Ehrlich include one recently discovered erinaceomorph (the gymnure Hylomys megalotis). They've coded it as having been discovered in Papua New Guinea. That, of course, is a mistake - the gymnure was really discovered in Laos - but for a brief moment my mind went through the fascinating biogeographical implications of a native Papuan hedgehog...

Thanks Darren for writing about this subject, I think otherwise I would not have had any idea of how many new mammals have been named in the last 16 years or so.

I must say I have doubts about the validity of Trichechus bernhardi as it actually seems to be instead just a juvenile T. inunguis; about a year an a half ago I saw a picture of the holotype of T. bernhardi and contrary to what is stated in the description the basioccipital/basisphenoid suture was indeed unfused (implying it was a juvenile); other characteristics also seems to fit within the ontogenetic variations observed in T. inunguis (Domning & Hayek, 1986).

Domning, D. P. & L.-A. C. Hayek. 1986. Interspecific and intraspecific morphological variation in manatees (Sirenia: Trichechus). Marine Mammal Science 2(2):87-144.

408... and still no bigfoot! ;)

To Darren and readers of this blog:
The topic of cryptic and/or unrecognized mammalian diversity is an important one and the paper by Ceballos & Ehrlich (2009) highlights many broad issues that are well known to most mammalogists, and indeed vertebrate biologists in general. While it is good to see the contribution of Ceballos & Ehrlich (2009) receiving attention from the wider community, I wish to draw attention to 2 earlier papers that cover much the same ground as C&E (2009) and cover it with rigor:

(1) Reeder, Helgen & Wilson. 2007. Global trends and biases in new mammal species discoveries. Occasional Papers of the Museum of Texas Tech University 269: 1-35.
(2) Schipper et al. 2008. The status of the world's land and marine mammals: diversity, threat, and knowledge. Science 322: 225-230.

Many, if not all, of the points raised in C&E(2009) were eloquently and thoroughly analysed by Reeder et al(2007) and Schipper et al(2008). While C&E(2009), being published in PNAS, will arguably gain greater publicity than Reeder et al(2007), it is important to note that the review presented by C&E(2009) is a timely summation of previous work by authorties in mammalian systematics (e.g. Reeder, Helgen, Wilson, etc., etc.). Careful scrutiny of the online appendices to C&E(2009) reveals startling problems in their data. See for yourself.

As for the supposed 'new sirenian' of Roosmalen: there is no doubt that Roosmalen's supposed new species is in fact a juvenile Trichechus inunguis, your garden variety Amazonian manatee. This has been determined by Dr Daryl Domning amongst other marine mammalogists. There is no scientific basis for considering Roosmalen's "Trichechus bernhardi" as a valid new species of manatee: it looks strikingly similar to a juvenile Trichechus inunguis, and funnily enough that is exactly what it is.

Wow, so many new species, so little time. I will be sure to keep my eyes peeled for anything interesting going on in the perissodactyl world.

By Metalraptor (not verified) on 23 Mar 2009 #permalink

This is amazing, isn't it? I think it reinforces the fact that conservation is vitally important and that we can never place too much importance on the care and preservation of the natural world around us.

Interesting article. I didn't know the scale of cryptic species in mammals- its a really common problem in insect taxonomy.

There are cryptic species all over the place these days: among mammals they have resulted in the splitting of African elephants, wolves, least weasels, orang-utans, gorillas, tsessebes, lechwes, giraffes, rock-wallabies, pademelons, bottlenose dolphins and minke whales, among many others. It is also the opinion of at least some mammalogists that additional 'species', among them tigers, babirusas, Cape buffalo and bushbuck, deserve to be split up too.


At least the author of giraffe paper had decency to say that subspecies are long known, interbreed in zoos, no new taxonomically revelant information has arrived, and calling them species would give additional interest. Classical species created for conservation PR.

I would prefer that all biologists follow the example of leopard and tiger conservationists, who work to save subspecies (Amur, Indian, Indochinese etc) with full knowledge they are subspecies and in no way species.

Anyway, subspecies-species debate is mostly inside politics of conservationist circles. Especially IUCN and Birdlife International are rather overwhelmed by numbers of species and lax on updating info on subspecies. The general public and politicians seem to follow publicity and visual appeal of animals. I remember no breathrough in conservation of orangutans or african elephants after creating two species from one.

Jerzy: with respect, you seem to consistently promote the opinion that 'ignorance is bliss' and that scientists only recognise cryptic species because they want to become rich and famous, or want their favourite animals to be awarded higher conservation value, or want more species to tick off on their life-lists.

In fact, it is consistently noted in the literature on cryptic species that splitting is required in order that measurable variation be properly recognised: African forest elephants, to take one example, are apparently as distinct from African savannah elephants as are Asian elephants, and our present approach to taxonomy demands that we should therefore award all three lineages with different 'species' names. The persistent argument that we should preserve traditional usage seems predominantly to rest on the fact that the usage is traditional - wow, what a convincing argument!

Jerzy: I'll anticipate David and ask what objective definition for "species" you have elucidated. While the lack of such an objective definition may seem to put the splitters on no firmer ground than yourself in objecting to the split, the actual, subjective definition entirely justifies it. To wit, a species is what biologists want it to be, and if naming a new species helps preserve the animals as a breeding population, then biologists get what they want by identifying the new species. Merging doesn't benefit anybody, as far as I can tell, not giraffe, not biologist, not zoo attendee.

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 23 Mar 2009 #permalink

Good to know. I knew (and agree with) the push to elevate ssp. to sp. level, but the number of real (aka not ssp. elevations) new species of mammals described in the last decade is impressive. Although articles like this make me happy to be an entomologist. No shortage of stuff to describe over here.

Sorry i got distracted writing the last one and by the time it posted there were more things to reply to, couldn't figure out if I could edit. Anyway...

Jerzy: subspeices are a relic of 1950's taxonomy. Using current taxonomic theroy subspeices are either nothing (if they are a distinct looking organism but not a monophyletic group) or a full species. Animal names are finally catching up to this.

Therese, I don't think you're quite right in saying "subspecies are either nothing or a full species", but nor is Jerzy right in suggesting that the change between species and subspecies is entirely political.

What is involved in a number of these cases is competing species concepts - the "biological species concept" (BSC), which defines species as composed of potentially interbreeding individuals, and the "phylogenetic species concept" (PSC; though I personally prefer the label "diagnostic species concept"), that defines species as the smallest diagnosable lineage of organisms. Obviously, the PSC tends to recognise finer divisions than the BSC, so use of the PSC usually inflates the number of species recognised. On the other hand, most researchers claiming to use the BSC are really not - despite its claim to be based on a testable, empirical foundation, testing a use of the BSC is in truth usually impracticable.

Under the BSC, there can be such a thing as a "subspecies", as lineages may have diverged but still be potentially interbreeding. Under the PSC, there's no place for a subspecies because if finer diagnosable lineages are recognisable, then they're distinct species.


Yeah I guess I should have clarified that a bit more since if someone is following BSC the ssp rank could justifiably be used. I just tend to treat BSC like I do phenetics- something not worth mentioning unless I get in a full blown systematic discussion.

Then again I'm also on a one-woman crusade to remove subspecies from taxonomy so maybe my responses are a bit biased.


As for the supposed 'new sirenian' of Roosmalen: there is no doubt that Roosmalen's supposed new species is in fact a juvenile Trichechus inunguis, your garden variety Amazonian manatee. This has been determined by Dr Daryl Domning amongst other marine mammalogists.

I know that Daryl Domning has expressed his misgivings about the validity of Marc van Roosmalen's pygmy manatee in interviews, but do you know if he (or somebody else, for that matter) has published, or is planning to publish, a formal rebuttal?


There are cryptic species all over the place these days: among mammals they have resulted in the splitting of [...] wolves

Wolves? I hadn't heard of that. Do you have a reference?


the "phylogenetic species concept" [...] that defines species as the smallest diagnosable lineage of organisms.

Is there currently anything that even approaches consensus as to what, exactly, constitutes 'the smallest diagnosable lineage'?

Dartian asked about splitting wolves. It has recently been argued that Canis lycaon, the Eastern wolf or Eastern Canadian wolf, should be regarded as a distinct species. See...

Grewal, S. K., Wilson, P. J., Kung, T. K., Shami, K., Theberge, M. T., Theberge, J. B. & White, B. N. 2004. A genetic assessment of the Eastern wolf (Canis lycaon) in Algonquin Provincial Park. Journal of Mammalogy 85, 625-632.

Kyle, C. J., Johnson, A. R., Patterson, B. R., Wilson, P. J., Shami, K., Grewal, S. K. & White, B. N. 2006. Genetic nature of eastern wolves: past, present and future. Conservation Genetics 7, 273-287.

And, in Asia, both Canis himalayensis and C. indica have been argued as worthy of specific distinction. See...

Aggarwal, R. K., Kivisild, T., Ramadevi, J. & Singh, L. 2007. Mitochondrial DNA coding region sequences support the phylogenetic distinction of two Indian wolf species. Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research 45, 163-172.

Thanks for the references, Darren. Interestingly, if those wolf taxonomy revisions withstand scrutiny, we will find that, in spite of recent tendencies to sink the red wolf Canis rufus into synonymy with C. lupus, we still end up with a net increase of Canis species.

Yes: apparently, red wolves are (mostly) part of C. lycaon. C. lycaon was named (by Schreber) in 1775 and hence predates C. rufus Audubon & Bachman, 1851.

Dartian wrote: "but do you know if he (or somebody else, for that matter) has published, or is planning to publish, a formal rebuttal?"

I was trying to find a valid reference where Trichechus bernhardi is described and failed to find anything; all that I was able to find was the description given at Marc van Roosmalen's website and I don't think that counts as peer-reviewed. Therefore it seems there's no formal description to write a rebuttal about. The name seems to have been popularized trough interviews and the like.

Dartian asked:

Is there currently anything that even approaches consensus as to what, exactly, constitutes 'the smallest diagnosable lineage'?

Well, therein lies the rub, innit? The key word here is "diagnosable" - there must be some observable character (or combination of characters) that is fixed within the lineage but not found outside the lineage. Things are a bit more complicated than that, even, because the character may be particular to a certain semaphoront within the lineage, such as adult males. And, of course, researchers may differ on what they regard as "observable" - witness the debate on whether species can be divided using molecular characters.

I think it's worth saying that, at the end of the day, all species concepts are trying to identify much the same thing - genetic lineages that have diverged from each other and between which gene flow is no longer (or not appreciably) occurring. The debate is how best to recognise such lineages.

Re Trichechus bernhardi: I concur with Jorge - I haven't been able to find any indication that the species has been validly published as yet (whether the article on van Roosmalen's website is peer-reviewed is irrelevant, the point is that it doesn't meet the requirements for "publication"). Whether 'T. bernhardi' is a valid taxon that may eventually be published or not is not something I'd know about one way or another.

Darren et al.,

There are several mistakes there:
-I don't say that 'all' new discoveries are result of splitting. Many, notably saola and kipunji and wealth of rodents and bats, are naturally new ones. However I object to wasting effort on taxonomic reshuffling which could be spend on new research.
-It is not true that above were 'traditionaly' named subspecies. Most were originally described as species, back in 19.century. They were sunk into subspecies in 20. century for legitimate reasons. You have here return to 19. century tradition versus mid-20.century tradition.
-Despite push for PSC, BSC remains the dominant taxonomic concept. It is actually, often testable in mammals. For example we have molecular proof of gene flow between savanna and forest African elephants - thence one BSC species.
- Remember that there were valid reasons to sunk ca. 10,000 mammalian species and 20,000 bird species named in 19.century. It would be good to familiarise yourself with these, because concerns of mid-20 century taxonomist are often the same as problems of 21. century conservationist. For example:

- presence of numerous hybrid populations is a problem for conservation. Should populations of intermediate savanna-forest elephants be given conservation attention or not? Should tiger conservation in Burma stop until its verified, whether they are Indian or Indochinese subspecies?
- If diagnosability is limited eg. only adult males, or only by molecular methods, this creates problems in surveys. Even with late 20. century restrictive species, there were problems with assigning eg. langur or spider monkey populations to species.
- You need to prioritise conservation. You are at risk of getting evolutionary unique forms extinct, because efforts were directed to elevated subspecies. This concern given rise to EDGE project which Darren nicely summarised.
- For above practical purposes, old species are still mentioned in literature, as species groups, subgenera or more awkward concepts. With time, the whole taxonomy simply shifts up a notch - people talk about species-groups instead of species. This was one of practical concerns that so many species were quickly lumped somewhere around late 19/first half of 20. century.

Re: Trichechus bernhardi. Roosmalen himself mentioned that mtDNA was identical to Amazonian manatee.

Interesting was his belief (coming mostly from interviews with local people) that bernhardi is a whole dwarf population which evolved in isolated river systems as an analogue of dwarf elephants isolated on Mediteranean islands. This could be very interesting evolutionary history. And perhaps, could be also population of valid conservation concern.

Thanks Jerzy for continuing comments. I only have time to make some very brief points in response:-

(1) What you call taxonomic reshuffling does not equate to a waste in research funds, predominantly because those who do it have no direct financial association with conservation efforts.

(2) 19th century subspecies-level taxa were not always sunk with good reason as you state - in a huge number of cases, the sinking resulted from an mid 20th century 'lazy phase' that we are only just leaving.

(3) Hybrid zones do not tell you anything about the validity of a species, given that hybridisation is rampant and does not necessarily mean anything about relatedness. We spot hybrids easily in big mammals and distinctively plumaged birds, but there is every indication that it is ubiquitous among far more poorly sampled animals. Ergo, the discovery of hybrids among two close relatives does not automatically mean that the two are the same species.

with full knowledge they are subspecies and in no way species.

Nathan is right -- this is not a matter of knowledge, or of science in general; it's a matter of definition and nothing else. There are at least 25 species concepts out there, and they don't really seem to have anything in common except the word "species"; depending on the species concept, there are between 101 and 249 endemic bird species in Mexico.

Canis [â¦] indica

Utter nonsense, it's Canis indicus.

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 24 Mar 2009 #permalink

Despite push for PSC, BSC remains the dominant taxonomic concept.

Then why doesn't anyone lump Tursiops and Pseudorca? Is the hybrid sterile?

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 24 Mar 2009 #permalink

C. indica: I haven't checked, but I have a recollection that this is being used because there is already a C. indicus, nowadays regarded as synonymous with C. aureus, the Golden jackal.

I thought the Indian wolf was Canis lupus pallipes. Where does that indica/indicus come from?

Aggarwal et al. (2007) found C. l. pallipes (and C. l. chanco/laninger) to be genetically distinct from the two Indian lineages they referred to as C. himalayensis and C. indica. It would take some homework to get to the bottom of the taxonomy - another time perhaps! Incidentally, C. himalayensis and C. indica were reported by these authors to be old lineages hypothesized to be outside of the C. lupus + domestic dog clade, but closer to it than to jackals.


(1) Even then, there are two scenario.s. One is that taxonomic 'specialists' produce papers instead of going into the field to study more speciments, make DAN analysis etc. Second is that field biologists waste time keeping up to date with something which is a kind of fashion.

(2) Yes, indeed, lots of poorly distinct species were sunk in 20. century. But this is Ockham razor - unless you have good evidence that it is distinctive, sunk it together with other non-distinctive forms. I am happy when new research brings new data and shows that forms has many distinctive characteristics. For example, new genus of frogmouth from Solomon islands believed to be a subspecies. But you need a new research for it.

(3) I think you don't see the difference between occassional hybridization or small genetic introgression, which is common, and wide hybrid zone.

Despite push for PSC, BSC remains the dominant taxonomic concept.

No. In fact, the BSC has never been the dominant taxonomic concept - people have simply thought it was. As I said, in practice the biological species concept is entirely impracticable. For any collection of n populations that may be candidate species, you're going to need a minimum of n2 tested of breeding compatibility - and that's assuming that you get perfectly reliable results first time around, which we all know is never going to happen.

In reality, researchers claiming to apply the "biological species concept" have all too often been applying the recognition of diagnostic populations filtered a largely subjective judgement of how "different" two populations needed to be before they counted as separate "species".

More for Jerzy!

(1) I say again, the people doing the research on cryptic species have funding to do phylogenetic/systematic research - they are NOT somehow stealing money that is alloted for conservation. As for field biologists keeping up with the literature, they seem to have done alright so far.

(2) Sinking species without good reason (that is, without appropriate work: exactly what happened during the 'lazy phase' I referred to) is flat out evil, and has meant that many distinctive lineages have lost conservation priority, and in some cases were virtually 'allowed' to go extinct (a good example is provided by the members of the grey teal species group).

(3) Even broad, widespread hybridisation - e.g., between Carrion crow and Hooded crow - tells us nothing about species status, given that other factors are more important IF we want to distinguish evolutionary lineages.

Apparently, the Tursiops-Pseudorca hybrid had a calf with a bottlenose dolphin.


I find inter-genus hybrids to be extremely interesting, even if many of them are a result of human manipulation and intervention. So where do we draw the line between species, and genera? If the possibility of hybridisation is evidence that 2 populations are a single species, then are tigers and lions the same? Or wolves and coyotes?

Are pumas and leopards the same genus, even though they have been recorded to hybridise in captivity? Or what about bottlenose dolphins and all the other dolphin species they are known to have hybrid offspring with?

A quick check reveals that we have:

Cervus-Axis (this hybrid was subsequently mated with Rucervus, so a Cervus-Axis-Rucervus hybrid exists)
Camelus-Lama (through artificial insemination)


Leopardus-Felis Prionailurus-Felis Leptailurus-Felis Leptailurus-Caracal Leopardus-Lynx



Many of these are problematic even if we are following 19th Century taxonomy.

I think it is only reasonable to maintain that genetically separate populations should be identified as separate entities, whether as subspecies (e.g. plains zebra) or full species altogether, and then managed accordingly. It is folly to assume that just because a species is doing well in one country and not so well in another, that the population which is at risk can be allowed to dwindle and die out.

BSC as the dominant species concept? As Chris said this is not the case, never was and surely isnt now. Just because thatâs what they teach in college biology doesnât make it so. Hard to know if something can interbreed successfully when all you ever see is a series of dead specimens in a box. And anyway, even if it was the case for mammals (which I tend to doubt since much of the original work was done by zoologists in the lab not the workers on the expeditions, who I also expect didn't sit there and make notes of who mated with who and followed the F1s around), it is defiantly not the case for insects which as you know as well as I do makes mammal diversity look like a joke. Anyway as an insect systematist I've done phylogenies on insects that I've never seen as anything other than a 100 year old specimen on a point. Heck even in the genus I've spent the last 3 years of my life revising I've looked at well over 10,000 dead specimens and less 20 live specimens (and never seen them mate).

It's truly amazing that with all the habitat destruction and species extinctions,large mammals are still being discovered. This confirms the view that cryptozoology is a legitimate endeavor, one to be taken seriously, if approached with some caution.

By Raymond Minton (not verified) on 24 Mar 2009 #permalink


I had somewhere a paper about viper taxonomy which concluded that lots of research involved reclassification, even if bringing new examples from other populations would be preferable.

I will stay with my belief that in 'new species matter' there is important component of splitting for drawing conservation attention and for bird-twitching, that it should not be confused with adding truly new information - discovery of species or original research about DNA, morphology, ecology etc, and that it should be fought off - if only by ignoring changes.


BTW - I can also point you good candidates for 'real' splitting. One is monotypic snow leopard, which has very disjunct range and actually 2 ssp were already named. Another is collared peccary - Roosmalen in his Giant Peccary article mentions huge genetic variation within collared peccary.

To PSC fans. If you subscribe to PSC, then these are still not 'new' species. Most populations were already described as 'species' in 19. century.


If you subscribe to PSC, then these are still not 'new' species. Most populations were already described as 'species' in 19. century.

Please keep in mind that that's not true in the case of the Ceballos & Ehrlich paper. The authors specifically excluded such cases where erstwhile subspecies have been elevated to full species. As they say, on the very first page of the paper (emphasis mine):

The new mammal species we found were of three types. The first was morphologically distinct species found in previously poorly surveyed areas. The second, the result of using molecular genetic techniques, was discoveries that the geographic range of a well-known organism was actually the combined ranges of two or more cryptic speciesâone's not easily recognized by morphological features. The third type consists of species that had been considered subspecies and were newly elevated to specific status (again, often as the result of molecular genetic discoveries). Two of the most prominent recent cases involved giving specific status to populations of forest elephants in central Africa and orangutans in Borneo (14).

In this article we will deal only with the first two casesâif the third were considered we would be dealing with >1000 ânewâ species.

So no, neither elephants, orangutans, gorillas, giraffes, clouded leopards, wolves, nor any other of the recent high-profile cases of 'splitting' are included in Ceballos & Ehrlich's data set. Those 408 species are, so far as we can tell, bona fide new taxa*.

* That's not to say that future research might not some day show that some of those 408 species aren't really sufficiently different from previously known species - but that's not the same thing as suggesting that the researchers have somehow manipulated the data.


>* That's not to say that future research might not some day >show that some of those 408 species aren't really >sufficiently different from previously known species

I suspect this is the case for 'new' waterbuck and tsetsebee from Bangewulu. Are they more different than existing subspecies are from each other? And large chunk of 'new' primates.

About lots of new bats, rodents etc - I am happy, I only cannot follow taxonomy of these very interesting groups.

In terms of new discoveries being made among animals we already knew about, it is my understanding there are people talking about one or two new sub-species of Pan troglodytes, and a new species of Pan. From what I know I'd say that one of the new sub-species may well be a separate species, while the ever popular P. t. Schwienfurthi and its bili ape population more likely species in their own right. If the research works out, we're talking something like five different species in the Pan genus. Here follows a list, with two of them given provisional names by yours truly. Species listed in alphabetical order.

p. leomortis (The bili ape. AKA, the lion killer ape.)
P. olivares (After Oliver, the type specimen)
P. paniscus
P. schweinfurthi
P. troglodytes

I haven't heard anything about possible sub-species of paniscus, or separate species lumped in with paniscus, but I wouldn't be all that surprised if there were.

For real fun, do a scholarly search via Google regarding a creature called the almas. We might have the skull of a man who was the son of a human-neanderthal hybrid. The man himself dying late in the 19th century.

Just remember, we don't know as much as we think we do, and a lot of what we do know is, even under the kindest of assessments, wrong.

Hi Alan. The so-called bili apes have been reported by some to be part of P. t. schweinfurthii: go here for links to relevant info. Oliver is pretty much certainly an individual of P. t. troglodytes: Ely et al. (1998) published on this here. As for the possible hybrid human you refer to - are you talking about Khwit Sabekia? (also spelt Khvit or Kvit). He died in 1884 and was supposedly the offspring of Zana, an alleged almas, and an unknown human male. Grover Krantz examined Khwit's skull and concluded that it was that of a 'fairly normal, modern human with no trace of Neandertal characteristics, though I would dearly love to have found any such traits' (Krantz 1999, p. 336).

Ref - -

Krantz, G. S. 1999. Bigfoot Sasquatch Evidence. Hancock House, Surrey, B.C. & Blaine, WA.

Also, leo mortis means "lion of death", not its opposite, so I really hope this name stays out of nomenclature.

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 29 Mar 2009 #permalink