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new tree

New species of tree discovered in Tanzania mountains

Researchers have discovered a new species of tree in the Usambara Mountains in Tanzania.

The tree, which grows up to 20m tall and has white flowers, was discovered in the Eastern Arc Mountains, a globally important region for species in need of conservation.

It has been categorised as endangered due to its restricted population range at only 8km-sq. It is as yet unknown what kind of wildlife might rely on the tree, but it is most likely pollinated by a species of beetle.

Researcher Dr. Andy Marshall, from the University of York’s Department of Environment and Geography, discovered the tree when carrying out a survey of the forest to understand the environmental factors that influence the amount of carbon that forests can store.

Botanist George Gosline, from Kew Gardens, recognized that this is a new species related to a group previously thought to be restricted to western Africa.  This in turn led to recognition of three new species in the group.

Reducing numbers

Dr. Marshall said: “The tree is in a particularly beautiful part of the world – up high in the clouded mountains and surrounded by tea estates.  Now that we know it exists, we have to look at ways to protect it.

“With such a small population, it is important that it does not become isolated from other forests in the region, due to increasing agriculture. Small forests need to be connected to others to ensure seed dispersal and species adaptation to climate change.”

The forests of these mountains have been reduced in size by thousands of square kilometres over the past hundred or so years and are now threatened by climate change. The researchers argue that it is essential to look at conservation methods in order to maintain or increase the tree population.

Human intervention

Research shows that forests that have been restored with the help of human intervention rarely achieve the same number of species that would have occurred naturally. This means that conservation efforts should begin before any further damage occurs.

A research project, led by Dr Marshall, in another part of Tanzania, the Magombera Forest, should provide researchers with further understanding of the best methods to employ for protecting these secluded rare species. The project includes working with local villagers to develop new methods for restoring forests and to find alternative sources for wood, and how local people can help to reduce wildfires and invasive vines that can kill trees.

With local support, thousands of small trees have grown back in areas once lost, suggesting that a similar approach could be used in other areas where species are at risk of becoming extinct through human activity and climate change.

Irreplaceable

George Gosline, botanist from Kew Gardens, said: “The discovery of this extremely rare species reaffirms the importance of the Eastern Arc Mountains as one of the most important reservoirs of biodiversity in Africa.

“The area is a refuge for ancient species from a time when a great forest covered all of tropical Africa.  These forest remnants are precious and irreplaceable.”

The discovery is not the first to be made in the region by Dr Andy Marshall; other discoveries in the Eastern Arc Mountains include a new chameleon species and the Polyceratocarpus askhambryan-iringae tree, which was discovered by chance whilst Dr Marshall was researching one of the world’s rarest primates, the kipunji monkey.

Materials provided by the University of York

Callao Cave Philippines

Researchers discover fossils in Calleo Cave indicating a new hominid species

Scientists have reported the discovery of an unknown species of human beings who resided in the Philippines almost 50,000 years before. The recently found evidence shows that new species, Homo luzonensis was very small in size and maybe even smaller than the Hobbit species which was discovered in the Flores island back in 2004.

This discovery has made the timeline of human evolution very messy but nonetheless fascinating due to the discovery of the species which was previously not known. Small pieces of bones and teeth were found from the Callao Cave in the Philippines island of Luzon. The fossils found in the Callao Cave give clues of many features which have been totally unknown to the researchers. Hence it makes the statement for the declaration of a new human species, Homo luzonensis. This discovery was reported in the Nature journal.

This is a breakthrough discovery as it is not regular to find about new human species. The discovery of Homo luzonensis can reveal facts about human evolution and what happened to the ones who left Africa thousands of years before.

In 2010, a single human foot bone was discovered in Calleo Cave which was dated at 67000 years old. This was the first evidence that humans have been present in Philippines for quite some time. We have known that hominins, the group of primates who are more closely related to us than chimpanzees lived in Philippines as early as 700,000 years ago.

The hominins are not exactly our direct ancestors but they can be considered as close relatives. Each species had their own evolutionary journey as they adapted to changing environments and circumstances. Around 50,000 years ago in Africa, there were many human species in Africa and Eurasia.

The team of scientists led by Florent Détroit, National Museum of Natural History located in France and Armand Mijares, University of the Philippines who found the foot bone in Philippines have tried to gather more evidence around Calleo Cave. The excavations have led to the discovery of 12 hominin elements in all which includes a thigh bone, and several bones of hands and feet. Scientists have identified them belonging to two adults and one child. Unfortunately, there was no genetic evidence present in these specimens.

Analysis of the specimens gives rise to the conclusion that the species, Homo Luzonensis have been very small compared to the present size of human beings. Scientists suspect that they may have been subjected to insular dwarfism, a condition where the size of a species gets significantly reduced due to very less to the resources needed for development.

Although some of the scientists feel it is too soon to declare the luzonensis a new species and that only another set of fossils complemented by DNA and mark them as a new Homo member.