Friday, 11 May 2012

Armoured lizard discovered in minefield

New Species of Lizard Discovered in Central African Minefield
08 May 2012 Taylor & Francis

African Journal of Herpetology (Eli Greenbaum. Volume 61, Issue 1)
discovers a new species of Cordylus (Squamata: Cordylidae) from the
Marungu Plateau of south-eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo

An international collaboration of scientists has announced the
discovery of a new species of lizard from remote, war-torn mountains
in Central Africa. The new species, Cordylus marunguensis, is
described from the Marungu Plateau, a montane area west of Lake
Tanganyika in south-eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The expedition that led to the new species discovery in 2010 was led
by Eli Greenbaum, assistant professor of evolutionary genetics at the
University of Texas at El Paso, and Chifundera Kusamba, a research
scientist from the Centre de Recherche en Sciences Naturelles in
Congo. The team spent several weeks exploring the area around the
plateau for new species of amphibians and reptiles. The new lizard
was discovered near the village of Pepa under rocks in grassy fields
that were riddled with landmines and unexploded ordnance left over
from a heavy conflict that engulfed the region at the turn of the
21st century.

Suspecting the lizard represented a new species, Greenbaum sent DNA
samples to Edward Stanley, a student at the American Museum of
Natural History’s Richard Gilder Graduate School in New York City.
Mr. Stanley compared the DNA of the Marungu lizard to similar species
throughout Africa and confirmed that it was indeed a new species to
science. He bolstered the finding by using a new technique called
high resolution x-ray computer tomography to reconstruct the lizard’s
skeleton in three dimensions, the first time such a technique has
been used in a living lizard species description.

The digital reconstruction confirmed the presence of tiny bones
called osteoderms in the heavily armored scales of the new species.
The reinforced scales are thought to protect the lizards from attacks
by predators, and in some cases, to allow the animals to avoid
attacks by wedging themselves between small, rocky crevices.

The discovery of the new species offers hope for conservation, even
though none of the lizard’s habitat is currently protected.

"Although the Marungu Plateau has been heavily damaged by warfare and
habitat destruction, the new lizard proves that it is not too late to
implement conservation efforts," said Greenbaum. It is hoped that the
new discovery will lead to the protection of the plateau’s unique
plant and animal biodiversity in the near future.

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