From New Scientist:
‘Hidden’ species may be surprisingly common
* 00:01 19 July 2007
* NewScientist.com news service
* Phil McKenna
Cryptic species – animals that appear identical but are genetically quite distinct – may be much more widespread than previously thought. The findings could have major implications in areas ranging from biodiversity estimates and wildlife management, to our understanding of infectious diseases and evolution.
Markus Pfenninger and Klaus Schwenk, of the Goethe-Universitat in Frankfurt, Germany, analysed all known data on cryptic animal species and discovered that they are found in equal proportions throughout all major branches of the animal kingdom and occur in equal numbers in all biogeographical regions. …
Examples of cryptic species include the African elephant. A 2001 study found the elephants were actually two genetically distinct, non-interbreeding species, the African bush elephant and the African elephant. The species are currently listed as vulnerable and threatened, respectively, by the World Conservation Union. In the case of the neotropical skipper butterfly, genetic testing revealed the “species” was actually 10 distinct cryptic species.
The reclassifications are more than an academic exercise. They define populations that have evolved independently of each other and whose genetic differences can have significant consequences.
In the early 1900s misidentification of mosquito species based on morphology confounded attempts to control malaria in Europe. Ultimately, what was thought to be a single species was actually made up of six sibling species, only three of which transmitted the disease.
“The basic unit in biology is always the species, and you have to know what you are dealing with,” Pfenninger says. Much previous research is now obsolete, he says, because it is not clear what species was being studied.
January 2013. Ten endangered Borneo pygmy elephants have died in the Malaysian state of Sabah, and there is a very strong suspicion that they have been poisoned. The animals were all thought to be from the same extended family, and had all suffered internal bleeding, were found in close proximity in the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve.
Genetic methods for counting new species may be a little too good at their jobs, a new study suggests. Computer programs that rely on genetic data alone split populations of organisms into five to 13 times as many species as actually exist, researchers report online January 30 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. These overestimates may muddy researchers’ views of how species evolve and undermine conservation efforts by claiming protections for species that don’t really exist, say computational evolutionary biologist Jeet Sukumaran and evolutionary biologist L. Lacey Knowles. The lesson, says Knowles, “is that we shouldn’t use genetic data alone” to draw lines between species: here.
- Pygmy elephants found dead in Borneo after ‘poisoning’ (guardian.co.uk)
- ‘A very sad sight to see’ (theage.com.au)
- New elephant, rhinoceros discoveries (dearkitty1.wordpress.com)
- 13 Pygmy Elephants Found Dead in Malaysia (livescience.com)
- 3 Borneo pygmy elephants found dead in Malaysia, total now 13 (ctvnews.ca)