DNA identifies 'hidden' species

July 7, 2011 at 6:36 PM
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla., July 7 (UPI) -- DNA evidence has confirmed seven new species of forest mice living undiscovered by science in a remote Philippine mountain range, researchers say.

Florida State University biologist Scott J. Steppan says the DNA tells an unusual evolutionary story of the separate species of mice, all of the genus Apomys, living separately but in close proximity in a small area on Luzon, the largest Philippine island.

"The Apomys genus is the product of millions of years of evolution in the Philippine archipelago," Steppan said, "but it also shows how very fast the process of evolution has been operating there, in terms of creating new species. Such cases of rapid diversification are useful examples to help us understand the origin of biodiversity in general."

While the new Apomys species may have been elusive until now, they aren't rare, Steppan said, but were hard to find primarily because of their extremely limited geographic ranges, an FSU release said Thursday.

"It is extraordinary, really almost unprecedented, to have so many closely related mammal species from such a small area that forms just one-half of one island -- let alone to have discovered so many so quickly," Steppan said.

Unfortunately, their limited ranges make them vulnerable to extinction from deforestation, which concerns scientists who say the animals are a key part of the Philippines' rich biodiversity.

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