Washington: A Florida State University biologist has discovered seven new species of mice through decoding of DNA drawn from the reclusive ‘new’ mammals.
Scott J. Steppan analyzed and compared the genetic codes of mice found in separate but proximate parts of a small area on Luzon, the largest Philippine island.
He determined that while each mouse was a distinct species, they all belonged to the forest-mouse genus Apomys, implying that all seven mice were both ‘new’ and closely related to one another.
“It is extraordinary, really almost unprecedented, to have so many closely related mammal species from such a small area that forms just one-half of one island –– let alone to have discovered so many so quickly,” said Steppan.
Throwing further light on the evolution of the newfound mice, he said: “the Apomys genus is the product of millions of years of evolution in the Philippine archipelago, but it also shows how very fast the process of evolution has been operating there, in terms of creating new species. Such cases of rapid diversification are useful examples to help us understand the origin of biodiversity in general,” he added.
According to him, while the new Apomys species may have been elusive until now, they aren’t rare.
Some are among the most abundant mammals in their respective forests and as such, are vital to the local ecosystem, which acts as a watershed for the human communities, he explained.
Steppan said that the seed- and earthworm-eating mice were hard to find because of their extremely limited geographic ranges, which make them susceptible to extinction from deforestation.
His discovery of the mice has made a marked difference in the number of mammal species (excluding bats) now known to be native to Luzon, increasing the current total by about 17 pc from 42 to 49.
The study appears in Fieldiana, the Field Museum’s peer-reviewed journal.
First Published: Monday, July 11, 2011, 20:37