Lizard discovered by KU researchers makes 'Top 10' list of new species

The International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University has picked a unique monitor lizard from the Philippines as one of its "Top 10 New Species" for 2011. The 2-meter-long lizard was discovered and described last year by researchers from the University of Kansas in conjunction with colleagues from the National Museum of the Philippines.

"It's an incredible honor, and I am truly humbled by all of the notoriety this research has received," said Luke Welton, a KU graduate student and one of the coauthors of the scientific description. "I knew as soon as I saw the animal that it was something special."

The Northern Sierra Madre Forest Monitor Lizard (Varanus bitatawa) inhabits trees in the forests of the Northern Sierra Madre mountain range of Luzon. According to KU researchers, it is one of three giant fruit-eating monitor lizards threatened by destruction of their forest habitats and, to a lesser degree, by hunting and the pet trade.

"Only time will tell, but our hopes are that the recognition of this species will bolster conservation efforts in the biodiversity hotspot that is the Philippines," Welton said. "Species like this, which rely on large tracts of intact forest for survival, are perhaps the most worthy of protection and conservation. Through their conservation, vast amounts of habitat are likely to be protected, benefiting all members of their ecological community."

It is exceptionally rare to discover a new, large vertebrate species, KU researchers said. News outlets around the world highlighted the KU discovery last April, including the New York Times, BBC News, Discovery News, Sydney Morning Herald and Iran Press TV.

Although people who lived and hunted in the area knew the animal, the lizard was new to science.

Each year, an international committee of taxonomy experts picks the Top 10 New Species for the IISE from the thousands of species fully described and published annually. Other species singled out for 2011 include a bioluminescent mushroom and a pancake batfish.

Source: University of Kansas