From the Field Museum in the USA:
New dwarf buffalo discovered by chance in the Philippines
First new fossil mammal from the Philippines in 50 years
CHICAGO–Almost 50 years ago, Michael Armas, a mining engineer from the central Philippines, discovered some fossils in a tunnel he was excavating while exploring for phosphate.
Forty years later, Dr. Hamilcar Intengan, a friend of his who now lives in Chicago, recognized the importance of the bones and donated them to The Field Museum.
If not for the attention and foresight of these two individuals, science might never have documented what has turned out to be an extremely unusual species of dwarf water buffalo, now extinct.
Its most distinctive feature is its small size.
While large domestic water buffalo stand six feet at the shoulder and can weigh up to 2,000 pounds, B. cebuensis would have stood only two-and-one-half feet and weighed about 350 pounds.
B. cebuensis, which evolved from a large-sized continental ancestor to dwarf size in the oceanic Philippines, is the first well-supported example of “island dwarfing” among cattle and their relatives.
“Natural selection can produce dramatic body-size changes.
On islands where there is limited food and a small population, large mammals often evolve to much smaller size,” said Darin Croft, lead author of the study and a professor of anatomy at Case Western Reserve University.
Significant finding on several levels
Water buffalo are members of the cattle family and are placed in the genus Bubalus, which includes four living species.
B. bubalis is the well-known domestic water buffalo.
B. mindorensis, popularly known as a tamaraw, is also a dwarf, although at about three feet tall at the shoulder and 500 pounds it is considerably larger than the newly discovered species.
The highly endangered tamaraw lives only on the Philippine island of Mindoro.
Two poorly known species of the genus Bubalus from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, known as anoas, are more distantly related.
The new species, B. cebuensis, teaches scientists a great deal about the entire buffalo genus.
Its discovery on Cebu–in combination with the occurrence of the rare tamaraw on Mindoro and a report of fossil teeth potentially referable to Bubalus on Luzon–indicates that this genus might have once lived throughout the Philippines, most of which is an oceanic archipelago, never connected to any continental land mass.
“Documenting past mammal diversity in the Philippines, an area of extremely high conservation priority, is vital for understanding the evolutionary development of the modern Philippine flora and fauna and how to preserve it,” said Larry Heaney, a co-author of the study and curator of mammals at The Field Museum.
“The concentration of unique mammal species there is among the very highest in the world, but so is the number of threatened species.”
B. cebuensis also can help scientists to better understand “island dwarfing,” whereby some large mammals confined to an island shrink in response to evolutionary factors.
This may occur due to a lack of predators (the animal no longer needs to be large to avoid being eaten) and/or limited food (smaller animals require less food).
The research could provide insights into debates on the evolution of small-bodied species elsewhere in the tropics such as the proposed new hominid, Homo floresiensis, found on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003.