Wednesday, 5 December 2012

New weta species discovered on threatened plateau in New Zealand


November 2012. A new species of cave weta has been discovered on the West Coast's Denniston Plateau, which, if an Australian mining company has its way, will also be the site of a 190ha open-cast coal mine. The weta has been informally named the "Denniston white-faced weta" for its distinctive white markings behind its head. It was discovered on the plateau by Massey University evolutionist Steve Trewick, who was immediately struck by the weta's unusual appearance.

Trewick said "It just stood out. We haven't seen anything with that appearance and colouration. Males and females are almost black with an unusual, prominent white marking behind their head."

Members of Massey University's ‘Phoenix' evolution, ecology and genetics group, led by associate professors Steve Trewick and Mary Morgan-Richards have been researching and classifying the weta.

Distinctive DNA sequence, the combination of spines on the legs and the shape of the females' subgenital plate all indicate this is a species new to science. But Steve Trewick says more work needs to be done to determine the genus and whether it is endemic to the Denniston Plateau.

"This weta might occur elsewhere as well as Denniston, but what it highlights is that destroying distinctive habitat is likely to destroy biodiversity even before we know it is there. If we're destroying biodiversity before we've even identified it, we're clearly following the wrong strategy," he says.

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