Microendemic Species: Can they be saved?

Every day, 41 new species are discovered. What if your next vacation photo happened to discover one of them?  If you do, chances are it can be classified as microendemic. Microendemic species are organisms whose range is restricted to one incredibly specific location, be it the side of a single mountain, a tiny rock island, or a single lake. These species are extremely vulnerable to extinction because their habitats can be lost so quickly, often before they can be protected. In fact, many of these species are lost before even being identified, as their discovery is often a matter of fate, or in some cases, social media.

One recently discovered species, Drosera magnifica, was discovered when a local in the area posted pictures of it to Facebook. Sometime later, the photo was discovered by Paulo Gonella, a PhD student in Brazil[1].Gonella said

“I was scrolling down my newsfeed when I came across a post by a friend. He was sharing a photo originally posted by Reginaldo Vasconcelos, a plant enthusiast from Governador Valadares, showing some plants in their natural habitat. The plants in the photo looked much larger and had very distinctive leaf and flower characteristics when compared to all the other Drosera I know. I immediately showed this photo to Fernando Rivadavia, who also studies this group of plants, and he was astonished as well.”

Gonella then flew to Southeastern Brazil with Fernando Rivadavia to do further research into the species. They found a unique new species, larger than any larger Drosera species discovered previously. From a Facebook post, they had discovered the largest mucus secreting carnivorous plant ever!  However, they also found a very dire situation for D. magnifica. The species is found only on a single mountain, which is already infested with invasive plant species capable of outcompeting the delicate D. magnifica. Additionally, the mountain’s base is completely deforested, cutting D.magnifica off from any other possible habitat, or possibility of rescue from another, yet undiscovered population. The area remains unprotected, and it will be difficult to protect this beautiful new species. However, with the popularity of carnivorous plants among collectors, D. magnifica will likely survive in captivity, even if it is lost in the wild.

Drosera Magnifica in the Wild

Drosera Magnifica-Fernando Rivadavia

Another new species, Brookesia Micra, contrasts the massive D. magnifica with its tiny size. B. micra is the world’s smallest chameleon[2]. This species is endemic to a tiny islet off the coast of Madagascar, Nosy Hara[3]. This minuscule chameleon is fascinating because it may represent the most extreme case of island dwarfism currently known. Maxing out at 16 mm long, B. micra is adapted to living in leaf litter on the tiny islet. Unlike D. magnifica, B. micra is not immediately threatened, as its islet is currently uninhabited, and lacks a presence of invasive species. However, should an invasive species such as rats be introduced, it likely faces the same danger many other island species have experienced. As has been seen time and time in the past, rats and snakes are professionals when it comes to wiping out predator naïve species. Its life style makes it especially vulnerable the threat posed by rats, as its ground dwelling nature gives it 24/7 exposure to any rats that enter its habitat. Given the low population and tiny habitat of B. micra, it would be very difficult to counter any invasion by rats or another invasive species with the ability to make a meal out of B. micra.

It could be claimed that losing these species, given their tiny range, is insignificant in the grand scheme of conservation, and that other species are more important to prioritize based on their larger contributions to an ecosystem. It is also easy to argue for the preservation of these species entirely in captivity.  However, microendemic species often represent extremes in evolution, especially in size, and should be preserved for their uniqueness and novelty.  The loss of these species in their native habitat, which is often small enough to easily purchase and protect, would be a mistake we would live to regret.

 

[1] Gonella, Paulo Minatel, Fernando Rivadavia, and Andreas Fleischmann. “Drosera Magnifica (Droseraceae): The Largest New World Sundew, Discovered on Facebook.” Phytotaxa (2015): 257. Print.

[2] Marshall, Travis. “Ten Animals That Live in Only One Place in the World.” Discover Magazine. 7 Mar. 2014. Web. 15 Sept. 2015.

[3] Glaw, Frank, Jörn Köhler, Ted M. Townsend, and Miguel Vences. “Rivaling the World’s Smallest Reptiles: Discovery of Miniaturized and Microendemic New Species of Leaf Chameleons (Brookesia) from Northern Madagascar.” PLoS ONE (2012). Print.

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This entry was posted in Conservation Biology Posts, Conservation Editorials 2015. Bookmark the permalink.

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