LSU researchers make major discovery in the animal kingdom – L’Observateur
BATON ROUGE – Researchers recently made a major discovery – 14 new species of shrews, which is the largest number of new mammals described in a scientific article since 1931. After a ten-year journey to inventory Indonesian shrews living on the island of Sulawesi, a group of scientists led by LSU mammologist Jake Esselstyn have identified 14 new endemic species.
The results are detailed in the recently published article, “Fourteen New Endemic Species of Shrew (Genus Crocidura) of Sulawesi Reveal a Spectacular Island Radiation, ”in a new issue of the Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History.
LSU PhD student Heru Handika and LSU alumnus Mark Swanson as well as Anang Achmadi from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences in Cibinong, Indonesia joined Esselstyn’s research path; Thomas Giarla of Siena College in Loudonville, NY; and Kevin Rowe of Museums Victoria in Melbourne, Australia.
“It’s an exciting, but sometimes frustrating find,” said Esselstyn, curator of mammals at the LSU Museum of Natural Science and associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. “Usually you discover a new species at a time, and there is a great thrill that goes with it. But in this case, it was overwhelming because during the early years we couldn’t tell how many species there were. . “
A clearer picture began to emerge once the research team examined a large collection of genetic and morphological data from new specimens collected between 2010 and 2018, combined with old specimens collected in 1916. In total, the group examined nearly 1,400 specimens, and they recognized 21 species on Sulawesi, including 14 new species. The known diversity of shrews on Sulawesi is now three times that of any other island.
Shrews are a diverse group of mammals – 461 species have been identified to date – and they have an almost global distribution. These small, insectivorous animals are closer relatives of hedgehogs and moles than of any other mammal.
This discovery is an important step in the search for Esselstyn. He first became interested in testing ecological and evolutionary hypotheses that might explain the diversity of shrews in Indonesia when he was a graduate student at the University of Kansas. After graduating, Esselstyn and Achmadi started capturing shrews on the island in 2010, and they soon realized that there were too many undocumented species to test these ideas.
Now that he feels he has mastered the diversity of the island’s shrews, Esselstyn is interested in exploring the geographic, geological and biological factors that have contributed to Sulawesi’s extraordinary biodiversity.
“Taxonomy is the foundation for so many efforts in biological research and conservation. When we don’t know how many species there are or where they live, our ability to understand and sustain life is severely limited. It is essential that we document and name this diversity, ”Esselstyn said. “If we can make discoveries of these many new species in relatively well-known groups like mammals, imagine what the undocumented diversity looks like in less visible organisms. “
Fourteen new endemic species of shrew (genus Crocidura) from Sulawesi Reveal a Spectacular Island Radiation, Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History: https://complete.bioone.org/journals/bulletin-of-the-american-museum-of-natural-history/issues