A doctoral candidate at University of Texas, El Paso has discovered that a certain species of chameleon found in different parts of the Albertine Rift in Central Africa actually comprises of three uniquely distinct species.
The three new species, described in a paper published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, were all endemic in Central Africa. Specimens of these species were collected in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 2009 and 2014.
“We had this really nice dataset with samples collected all throughout the range of a particular species which meant we could really figure out its true diversity,” said Daniel Hughes, a doctoral candidate at UTEP and lead author of the paper, in a press release. “We took to the next step and ultimately described three new species.”
The discovery of the three new species was made after Hughes conducted a careful analysis of the chameleons’ geographical, morphological and DNA data. This process was followed by nearly two years of external confirmation.
One of the new species of chameleon was named Tolley’s Forest Chameleon (Kinyongia tolleyae). This chameleon was named after Krystal Tolley, a herpetologist and principal scientist at the South African National Biodiversity Institute in Cape Town, South Africa. Aside from being a huge contributor in the field of chameleon research, Tolley is also the one who taught Hughes how to catch chameleons in Uganda.
On the other hand, the two other new species were named after the mountain ranges where they were found. These two are the Rugege Highlands Forest Chameleon (Kinyongia rugegensis) and Itombwe Forest Chameleon (Kinyongia itombwensis).
At present, about 206 species of chameleons have been discovered and described. All found in Central Africa’s Albertine Rift, the three new chameleon species joins the number of vertebrae species that are endemic in the region. However, the rapidly declining forests of Central Africa are threatening the animals living in the region. The researchers warned that if conservation efforts for the preservation of Albertine Rift cannot rapidly improve, many rare and potentially new species of animals will be lost.
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