AsianScientist (May 25, 2018) – In a study published in the Journal of Mammalogy, a team of scientists at the Field Museum of Natural History in the US has discovered a new species of moss shrew on Mount Mantalingahan, a mountain on Palawan Island in the Philippines.
The Philippines teems with biodiversity: 657 bird species roam throughout the country’s 7,641 islands, and over 2,000 fish species swim in the surrounding seas. But beyond these beaked and scaly creatures, the Philippines is also home to the world’s highest concentration per square mile of unique mammal species.
In the present study, researchers identified the Palawanosorex muscorum, known more informally as the Palawan moss shrew, living 5,000 feet above sea level on Mount Mantalingahan.
First spotted in 2007 by the late Danilo “Danny” Balete, field survey leader and research associate at the Field Museum, the Palawan moss shrew has a slender, pointed snout and dark coat. Unlike other shrews, its tail is covered in dense fur rather than visible scales.
With broad forefeet and long claws, the Palawan moss shrew digs through humus in search of its favorite snack: earthworms. The researchers analyzed these anatomical traits and determined that the Palawan moss shrew was a distinct species.
“There are entire countries that don’t have three unique mammal species, so for there to be three species on one mountain, on one island, in one country is really something,” said Mr. Larry Heaney of the Field Museum, who is a co-author of the paper.
According to the researchers, Mount Mantalingahan is a ‘sky island’—isolated mountaintops home to distinct habitats separate from the lowlands and neighboring mountains. These ‘sky islands’ create hubs of biodiversity, allowing for multiple ecosystems and, by extension, a wider range of species coexisting within a single geographic area.
Learning what species dwell in these mountains, Heaney noted, is not only helpful for zoologists and ecologists. For those who live and work in Palawan, which constitutes the Philippines’ largest province, protecting the Palawan moss shrew and Mount Mantalingahan hits even closer to home—it is a matter of personal and economic safety.
Mount Mantalingahan, in addition to being a ‘sky island,’ functions as a crucial watershed, regulating the flow of water in Palawan through natural processes. In Mount Mantalingahan’s case, humus—the low-density mountainous soil the Palawan moss shrew digs through—acts as a sponge, holding water from the frequent rainfall that high-elevation places tend to experience.
“That’s where most of the water comes from that people in the lowlands depend on,” Heaney warned. “In deforested areas, when a typhoon hits, it kills thousands of people and animals and destroys buildings. And if water isn’t being released slowly from the mountains, you’ll have less of it in the dry season, causing drought. If you want to protect your watersheds, you’ve got to protect your habitats.”
Beyond the economic implications of the shrew’s discovery, Heaney said he hopes that the new species sparks excitement among the Filipino and international scientific communities, which in turn can help encourage research, conservation and advocacy efforts.
“People in the world get excited about the cool things that live in their country,” Heaney said. “The fact that the Philippines is such a unique hotspot for mammalian diversity is something people should be aware of, something that people can take pride in.”
The article can be found at Hutterer et al. (2018) A New Genus and Species of Shrew (Mammalia: Soricidae) from Palawan Island, Philippines.
Source: Field Museum of Natural History.
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