It has been an exciting last 12 months for new species around the globe, with 550 new fish, mammals, plants, reptiles and insects discovered and new to science.
Amongst some of the more improbable findings are a new species of amphibian discovered in NE Australia. Called the Screaming tree frog, the species was identified by scientists purely based on the different call it made from other better-known species. In the Western Himalayan Churah Valley, a confined University student was taking photos of nature in his back garden to cope during lockdown. The student stumbled upon a snake curled up in a corner and sent a photo to one of the main Indian Universities. Amazingly they identified it as a species entirely new to science!
Sometimes the new species don’t look very impressive. Take the flightless Ewok weevil found in Melanesia. A whole new group of these brown flightless invertebrates were discovered in 2021 with each one given the name of a Star Wars character. (Un)fortunately Chewbacca weevil and Yoda weevil don’t quite look like their film equivalents.
Perhaps the most spectacular discovery in 2021 was the Killer tobacco plant. This innocuous looking white flower was first described last year from a lorry rest stop in Western Australia. It’s not as delicate as at first sight; thousands of tiny hairs cover the stems and attract insects. The insects stick to the hairs and are slowly digested.
These discoveries are truly remarkable given the unrelenting speed at which the human race is accelerating extinction through over-development and climate change. The best estimate of extinction rates is approximately 150-235 species lost on average every day according to the UN. The WWF suggests it could be as many as 2,000! We are losing more species that we are finding by a huge margin. This really matters for our own survival as a species. Approximately 10% of all vascular (root-bearing) plants have a known medicinal purpose. Without plant-based chemicals we would not only struggle for food but also for the cures to many illnesses. There are up to 500,000 plant species with medical value. Yet in a single year we are losing at least 85,000 species, mostly plants and insects.
In April this year a critical international biodiversity summit will take place in Kunming, China. Known as COP15 of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, this conference aims to set new goals for stopping the destruction of species and habitats, just as COP26 on climate, in Glasgow last November, was tasked with reaching agreement on keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Without nature the planet has no future.
As we celebrate and wonder at new species still being found, we must also do everything we can to turn around the overwhelming trend of species and habitat loss. A successful COP15 is critical to that.
A Rocha UK will be working with our allies to influence the UK government’s positions at COP15, and with other members of the worldwide A Rocha family to monitor and report on the conference itself.
Written by Andy Lester, A Rocha UK’s Head of Conservation for our February 2022 eNews.
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Photo Credit: Georgina Smith / CIAT