Luzon: Expedition discovers 300 species on island
David Perlman, Chronicle Science Editor
Saturday, June 25, 2011
Gary Williams / California Academy of Sciences
Scientists exploring the island of Luzon in the Philippines have discovered more than 300 species of land animals, plants and deep-sea creatures that may prove to be entirely new to science.
A six-week expedition by scientists from the California Academy of Sciences and various Philippine scientific institutions found the previously unknown species "during nearly every dive and hike as we surveyed reefs, rain forests and the ocean floor," said expedition leader Terry Gosliner, an invertebrate zoologist and dean of science at the academy.
The expedition's goal was to examine the striking biodiversity on Luzon, which is already known worldwide as holding some of the Earth's most diverse forms of life, Gosliner said Friday. The scientists also sought to determine how the environment of the island's species can best be protected by Philippine conservation agencies, he said.
Academy scientists, who work in far-off places as diverse as Madagascar, West Africa, Borneo and Burma, are constantly discovering new species, but usually only a few at a time. Finding 300 creatures that could turn out to represent previously unknown members of the plant and animal kingdoms is remarkable for a single expedition.
"The Philippines is one of the hottest of the hot spots for diverse and threatened life on Earth," he said, but much of it is still mysterious, and before it can be protected, scientists must learn in detail what's there so the rare life forms can be given the best chance of survival.
50 new sea slugs
In the 42 days the scientists were on Luzon, they discovered "dozens of new insects and spiders, deep-sea armored corals, ornate sea pens, bizarre new sea urchins and sea stars, and over 50 colorful new sea slugs," academy officials said in a report.
Other findings, according to the report, included a swell shark that inflates its stomach with water to bulk up and scare off other predators; a starfish that exclusively eats sunken driftwood; three new relatives of lobsters that squeeze into crevices for protection instead of carrying shells on their backs; a crab whose pincers are lined with needle-like teeth, and a worm-like pipefish that hides among colonies of soft coral.
The expedition was one of the academy's most productive ventures since the noted Galapagos International Scientific Expedition of 1964, which was jointly sponsored by the academy and UC Berkeley, and sent about 65 scientists to follow in the footsteps of Charles Darwin exploring for new species on the islands, Gosliner said.
That venture led the government of Ecuador to begin staffing its new and as-yet-undeveloped national park so the plants and animals there could be protected for the first time.
The expedition's scientists on Luzon included half from the academy and half from Philippine institutions. Specialists jointly surveyed all the island's plant and animal life from the upper slopes of Mont Isarog, a potentially active volcano 6,450 feet high, through the island's rain forests, and along the shallow shores to the seafloor at depths up to 7,550 feet, Gosliner said.
It will take months and even years before all the plants and animals the scientists collected can be identified, described scientifically, and classified as new or old species.
Areas for protection
At the expedition's end in early June, the scientists from both nations held a daylong meeting at the University of the Philippines to discuss preliminary recommendations for conservation measures. Even more recently, Gosliner said, expedition members outlined important locations for marine protected areas on Luzon, as well as areas where reforestation is needed to reduce damage to reefs from sedimentation.
The expedition was funded by a $500,000 gift from Margaret and Will Hearst III, a member of the board of the Hearst Corp., which owns The Chronicle.
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