In a single new scientific publication, 24 new species of lizards known as skinks, all from islands in the Caribbean, have been discovered and scientifically named. According to Blair Hedges, a professor of biology at Penn State University and the leader of the research team, half of the newly added skink species already may be extinct or close to extinction, and all of the others on the Caribbean islands are threatened with extinction. The researchers found that the loss of many skink species can be attributed primarily to predation by the mongoose -- an invasive predatory mammal that was introduced by farmers to control rats in sugarcane fields during the late nineteenth century. The research team reports on the newly discovered skinks in a 245-page article to be published on 30 April 2012 in the journal Zootaxa.
About 130 species of reptiles from all over the world are added to the global species count each year in dozens of scientific articles. However, not since the 1800s have more than 20 reptile species been added at one time. Primarily through examination of museum specimens, the team identified a total of 39 species of skinks from the Caribbean islands, including 6 species currently recognized, and another 9 named long ago but considered invalid until now. Hedges and his team also used DNA sequences, but most of the taxonomic information, such as counts and shapes of scales, came from examination of the animals themselves. "Now, one of the smallest groups of lizards in this region of the world has become one of the largest groups," Hedges said. "We were completely surprised to find what amounts to a new fauna, with co-occurring species and different ecological types." He added that some of the new species are 6 times larger in body size than other species in the new fauna.
Hedges also explained that these New World skinks, which arrived in the Americas about 18 million years ago from Africa by floating on mats of vegetation
|Contact: Barbara Kennedy|